Gilroy City Councilmember Rebeca Armendariz violated several city ordinances when she helped organize a Halloween event at her home in 2021 that ended in the shooting death of one man and injuries to three others, an investigation concluded.
The City of Gilroy on April 11 released the findings from San Francisco-based law firm Hanson Bridgett LLP, which was hired by the city to investigate the events that occurred at Armendariz’s residence on Las Animas Avenue on Oct. 29 and 30.
On the evening of Oct. 29 and into the next morning, a large outdoor party was taking place at Armendariz’s home. Just before 1am Oct. 30, police responded to reports of a shooting at the party.
Police arrived and determined four people had been shot during an altercation. Pronounced dead at the scene was 18-year-old Michael Daniel Zuniga-Macias. Three other victims—between 17 and 19 years old—were injured by the gunfire.
In addition to Armendariz, Augustina (Sally) Armendariz, Benjamin Calderon and Domingo Armendariz were also found in violation of the Social Host Ordinance and for failing to acquire a permit for the event where alcohol was being consumed which attracted about 100 people, many of whom were teenagers, according to the report.
The City of Gilroy issued 10 citations to Armendariz, while Sally Armendariz, Benjamin Calderon and Domingo Armendariz were issued four apiece.
Investigator releases findings
The six-month-long investigation concluded that Armendariz violated the city’s Social Accountability Host Ordinance, which holds adult hosts or landowners responsible if they “knowingly allow such loud or unruly gatherings to occur on their premises, at their residence or at rented facilities where alcoholic beverages are served to, consumed by, or in the possession of underage persons.”
In interviews with Armendariz, the investigators said that Armendariz told them that her nephew, Benjamin Calderon, 19, was planning a party for his friends and coworkers at the house. Armendariz reportedly said she objected to the party, citing Covid-19 concerns and her own dislike of having parties at the house, but said it was the decision of her mother, Augustina (Sally) Armendariz, who owns the property.
According to the report, Armendariz said she did not assist with the party’s planning, but provided her nephew and son Domingo with the phone number to rent a Porta-Potty, and the number for the owner of the empty lot across the street, which Calderon wanted to use for overflow parking.
The owner of the vacant property, whose name is redacted in the report, emailed Armendariz an indemnity agreement, which she forwarded to Domingo so he could sign it.
The report also stated Armendariz violated the city’s special event permit requirements by not obtaining a permit for the Halloween party, and also for using city-issued barricades that were only authorized for a Dia de los Muertos event on Horlein Court downtown on Oct. 30.
A public records request by the Gilroy Dispatch supported these findings, showing that no permits for an event were filed for the party on Las Animas Avenue. Armendariz, meanwhile, had applied for a permit on Oct. 18 for the downtown Dia de los Muertos event.
Armendariz, according to the report, said city staff “originally told her that she could rent the barricades,” but on Oct. 29, said the barricades were at a city yard, and that it would be “easier” for Armendariz to “simply borrow them, and come pick them up, because the request was rather last-minute.”
A friend of Armendariz picked up the barricades and dropped them off in her driveway on Las Animas Avenue, the report stated. Armendariz reportedly said she did not relocate the barriers herself during the evening of the party, and believed her nephew placed them between the front house and back house during setup.
The report stated Armendariz obtained the barricades for “legitimate reasons” for the downtown event, but likely permitted them to be used by her son and nephew for the party “out of convenience.”
Investigators said Armendariz told them she did not seek a permit for the party because it was not her event.
The investigator stated in the report that Armendariz’s account of her involvement in the party “lacked credibility,” saying her statements that she did not know the scale of the party as it was happening were “implausible.”
Armendariz also “did not fully cooperate with the investigation,” the investigator noted, stating she “refused to answer certain questions concerning the incident on the advice of her counsel.”
The report disputed claims that Armendariz directed the unauthorized closure of Las Animas Avenue.
Gilroy mayor responds
Armendariz told the Gilroy Dispatch on Monday morning that she was working on a statement in response to the report.
In a statement, Mayor Marie Blankley said it has been “heart-wrenching” to hear from the family of Zuniga-Macias, who have been appearing at many city council meetings demanding Armendariz resign.
“To clarify, Rebeca Armendariz’s involvement in this incident has no connection to the scope of her position as a city council member,” Blankley said. “Under such circumstances, absent a felony conviction, only the voters have the power to remove a council member from office, or to otherwise ‘do something’ about the acts of a council member which fall outside of the course and scope of their elected position. The City of Gilroy shares no responsibility or association with the personal and private acts of a council member that are not in any way connected to their councilmember capacity.”
The City of Gilroy has been named in two civil claims, one from the family of Zuniga-Macias and another from a shooting victim who is now a quadriplegic, according to Blankley. The council discussed the claims during a closed session meeting on April 4.
She added that the independent administrative investigation has cost the city $47,000 and “hundreds of staff hours.”
“The city has no duty to defend Rebeca Armendariz herself,” Blankley said. “Instead, our duty in this matter is to protect the people of Gilroy from claims without merit or connection to the city, to enforce our municipal ordinances, and to seek evidence and testimony that will lead to full prosecution of the perpetrators of the shootings.”
No charges yet
So far, no suspect or suspects have been charged with a crime in relation to the death of Zuniga-Macias or injuries to the other shooting victims.
Gilroy Police arrested Calderon Oct. 31 for his alleged involvement in the shooting, but he was released after the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges against him. The DA’s office said the allegations against Calderon required further investigation.
In November, Gilroy Police served search warrants at several homes in Gilroy in relation to the Oct. 30 shooting, and arrested Lucas James Tomasetti for illegal gun possession, police said. Tomasetti has since been charged with possession of a firearm by a former juvenile offender and possession of ammunition by a prohibited person, according to authorities.
Gilroy Police have said they think two shooters were involved in the Oct. 30 altercation.
Michael Moore contributed to this report.