California

Girl testifies in preliminary hearing for ex-Olympic boxing champ accused of molestation

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Paul Gonzales, a 1984 Olympic boxing champion and county-employed boxing coach, appeared in Los Angeles County Superior Court for a preliminary hearing as he faces eight felony counts including lewd acts on a child.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The quiet sobbing of the 14-year-old witness filled the courtroom when she was asked to describe the man who had allegedly molested her numerous times in the summer of 2017.

The prosecutor returned to the question several times. The girl, red-faced with tears streaming down her cheeks, looked away.

At the defense table sat Paul Gonzales, 54, a former Olympic gold medalist and youth boxing coach at Eddie Heredia Boxing Club in East Los Angeles, who is accused of “grooming” the aspiring boxer and entering into a sexual relationship after she joined an after-school program at the county-run gym.

Gonzales was arrested in December and charged with eight felony counts, including four counts of committing lewd acts upon a minor and possession of child pornography. He has pleaded not guilty.

According to the girl’s testimony at Gonzales’ preliminary hearing Thursday, she was allegedly molested numerous times from June to August 2017, when she was 13 years old. The Ontario girl and Gonzales continued communicating with each other through at least December 2017 via phone calls, text messages and repeated visits to the boxing club, during which she was also touched inappropriately, she said in her testimony.

She described several incidents in Gonzales’ office and in the boxing club’s kitchen area in which Gonzales allegedly rubbed her “private parts,” kissed her and rubbed his erect penis against her despite her protests, she said. Gonzales also asked the girl to perform sexual acts multiple times, she testified.

In one instance, Gonzales pulled the girl’s shirt and bra down and touched and kissed her exposed breast , she said.

“I was talking to him in his office and he started pulling down my shirt,” the girl said. “And he gave me a bruise on my breast … I said, ‘No, stop.’”

The incidents made the girl feel “weird” and “scared,” she told the prosecutor, Jennifer Cops.

The girl said that at the end of summer, she stopped regularly going to the boxing club to attend eighth grade, but during a Thanksgiving weekend visit, Gonzales asked her to perform a sexual act. She said no, but he unzipped his pants and began rubbing himself on her, the girl testified.

Cops also presented to the judge a 36-page document that included sexually explicit photographs and text messages between the two in which the girl agreed to have intercourse with Gonzales. She testified that she had no intention of following through.

Gonzales told the girl he loved her and talked to her about meeting him at a hotel room, marrying him and her body belonging to him, she said. He also spoke with her about keeping their encounters a secret, she said.

Defense attorney Joseph Gutierrez questioned the girl about whether she held anything back from investigators in her account of events.

“Did you try to keep anything from them?” Gutierrez asked, to which the girl responded she hadn’t.

The girl responded to several of Gutierrez’s questions with long pauses or by saying “I don’t remember,” and Gutierrez moved on to reading her several text messages allegedly written by her that contained suggestive and sexually explicit content.

“You would joke with Paul, wouldn’t you? You liked to tease Paul, didn’t you?” Gutierrez said.

The girl didn’t answer.

Gutierrez also questioned the girl about whether she told anyone about the inappropriate behavior before her mother found the text messages on her phone and confronted her. The girl said she hadn’t.

In her testimony, the girl said that when she met Gonzales, she didn’t know he had won a gold medal in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Before these allegations, Gonzales was a local hero, rising from being one of eight children raised by a single mother in a Boyle Heights housing project to the first Mexican American to win a gold medal.

He was an inspiring figure in Los Angeles’ Eastside who earned the title “prince of the barrio” in his community and regularly gave motivational speeches in schools.

Gonzales was hired at the boxing club in 2007 and coached many students ages 8 to 19 daily, said Lt. Todd Deeds, with the sheriff’s special victims bureau.

The preliminary hearing to determine if Gonzales will be bound over for trial is scheduled to continue Friday morning.

alejandra.reyes-velarde@latimes.com