Like mother like daughter – Gonzales’s determination gets pastor/sex predator out of his church and off the streets

Detective Lisa Gonzales with HPOU’s Ryan Mooreland

One might say Detective Lisa Gonzales’s calling in life became a apparent at a young age. She was – and still is – the daughter of a woman dedicated to investigating sexual assault cases and ferreting out the creepy individuals who victimize the most vulnerable victims.

When she graduated from HPD Academy Class No. 222, Gonzales knew she wanted to become a sexual assault investigator. On night shift patrol at Eastside, she often drew the assignment to interview sexual assault victims.

In the Family

The “apple” didn’t fall far from the tree planted by her mother, Mary Gonzales, a long-time investigator of teacher-student assault cases in the Houston Independent School District. And several years ago, daughter Lisa became a member of HPD’s Special Victims Division – Crimes Against Children.

While we’re at it, we must talk about other apples and apple trees. Lisa’s older brother, David Jr., is an HPD sergeant in South Central TAC. Her uncle, Leo Flores, is a senior police officer in the HPD Auto Dealers Division. And her younger brother, Mario, followed mama Mary to HISD, where he’s a security officer.  Another uncle, Rolando Flores is retired HISD Police Officer.

Law enforcement is in the Gonzales/Flores blood. Lisa Gonzales avers that this is her calling, her life’s passion – to help the younger victims on the city block, especially the children of undocumented residents inclined not to get involved in reporting crimes.

Last year Detective Gonzales completed an investigation that resulted in two sexual assault charges against a pastor in the Fulton Street area north of downtown. She takes great satisfaction in helping remove a child predator like this individual from the streets of Houston, even though he has yet to go to trial.

Gonzales’ work on the case earned her Investigator of the Month honors from the Houston Police Officers Union last year and also the recognition as the Assist the Officer Investigator of the Year honor for 2021.

COVID-19 restrictions effectively postponed the ATO Heroes Gala this year in which “Top Cop” honors are presented. Instead, Gonzales will receive an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, DC during this May’s Police Week activities, as well as the gift certificate and other accoutrements that go with the annual presentation.

The detective was born and raised on the north side and went on to graduate from Katy Taylor High School in the West Houston suburb. She returned to her hometown to earn a Criminal Justice degree from the University of Houston Downtown. She got the nod to become an HPD cadet when her son, Bryan, turned three years old.

Due primarily to her mother’s influence, “I couldn’t stay away from general criminal justice. I wanted to give my son Bryan a better life so he wouldn’t have to be near criminals,” Gonzales told the Badge & Gun.

It seems that Bryan, this second generation “apple” likely won’t fall very far from the Gonzales tree – Bryan, now nine years old, wants to grow up to be an HPD detective.

Mary Gonzales retired from HISD last December and now serves as a special investigator for Children’s Protective Services. Lisa’s father, David, is the longtime (since age 16) district supervisor for Food Town groceries, “who has always backed me in everything I ever wanted to do.”

The story of the investigation that was the basis for the annual ATO recognition will likely prove to be routine for a determined and detail-oriented investigator like Mary Gonzales’ daughter.

Getting the Details

The original report stated that the complainant’s father was taking his sons to church when one son started crying in the back seat. When the father asked what was wrong, the complainant disclosed that the suspect, Jose Abel Mena, the pastor of the family’s church on the near northside, had been sexually abusing him for more than a year. This happened at the suspect’s home on the church premises.

Gonzales reviewed the complainant’s forensic interview and the medical exam conducted at the Children’s Assessment Center. She observed that the complainant’s statements to the doctor, his father and what he disclosed in the original report were all consistent with the forensic interview.

The boy stated that the incidents happened more than once when he was in the fourth grade and continued until April 2020.

The mother of the complainant told Gonzales that she had known this pastor for 13 years. Her son the victim was provided with a photo of the suspect’s driver’s license and he identified the suspect as the person who sexually abused him. The mother also confirmed the suspect’s photo by name and sight.

Gonzales conducted an extensive interview of the pastor/suspect, who acknowledged that he had known the complainant and his family for many years. The suspect confirmed that the complainant would stay the night at his residence and sleep in his bed.

Then the suspect confessed that he had sexually abused the complainant from 2019 until April 2020. The detective carefully documented every detail.

She had a confession but did not stop with the one resulting charge of Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child. The suspect turned himself in, posted bond and remained free.

Gonzales refused to stop at the initial investigation and wanted to keep moving forward after the arrest of the suspect. She felt that there were even more victims.

She issued a press release through the HPD Public Information Office to seek out more possible sexual pawns of the creepy culprit.

The ardent detective was soon contacted by a mother in Louisiana who stated that her son was also sexually abused by this same suspect. The mother stated that she saw the suspect’s photo on the news and she questioned her son to see if anything had happened to him since they had attended the church the five or six previous years.

Gonzales then conducted an interview with the child, who disclosed that he knew the suspect by name and sight as the pastor of the church he attended. The victim said he was sexually abused by the same suspect from 2003 to 2007.

Gonzales filed a second charge. The suspect is now out on bonds totaling $100,000. The detective believes her detailed report of his confession will help prosecutors get the maximum penalty.

A Voice for Others

Reflecting on her dedication to bringing sexual predators to justice, Mary’s daughter said she and her two law enforcement siblings heard many stories about assault cases from their mother, who always emphasized the thought that evildoers like this must be brought to justice.

“I listened to nothing but sexual assault cases,” the daughter said. “It runs in the family.”

Her instincts told her the first male victim “as not the only one.”

The victim found himself in an unfortunate situation – the trusted pastor who was supposed to shield him from harm “sadly was the one committing the harm.:

“I wanted to prevent this from happening. I knew it had happened more than once with other children as well. Hispanic families often feel they don’t have a voice. Sadly, their children don’t have a voice, and I want to be an advocate. I wanted a voice to be heard if it was me speaking for them.

“Of course, I believe this is true of any family of any race or color. I believe this is a crucial part of my job.”

And her work continues. She knows this predator won’t be the last one she will work to take off the streets. This is part of her job, her calling as Mary’s daughter the Houston police detective.