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A former Jacksonville man was sentenced Wednesday to 2½ years in federal prison for trying to kill a U.S. airman during a drunken brawl in a bar on a U.S. Air Force base in Misawa, Japan, in late 2016.

"You're lucky you're not facing life for killing someone on an air base," U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. told Rodrigo Gomez, 44, who now lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., with his wife, Air Force Maj. Eloise Gomez, and their four children.

Moody said the airman, whose neck Gomez twisted as Gomez's son held the airman in a leg lock on the floor, and whose head Gomez then stomped on five times as a security camera recorded it, "did absolutely nothing to deserve the beating" and was the only one of four airmen present who tried to stop the melee

The airman, Souleyman Dia, "never even so much as clenched his fist," Moody said, telling Gomez, a jujitsu instructor, "Your actions almost killed the peacemaker in the whole thing."

On April 25, a federal jury convicted Gomez on seven charges -- four felonies and three misdemeanors -- stemming from a fight that started about 2 a.m. on Dec. 31, 2016, after a drunken Gomez, talking into a cellphone and stumbling, walked past a booth where the four airmen were seated.

According to testimony, Dia asked why he was so close, and Gomez demanded to know if the airmen "had a problem with it," prompting Airman Broderick Richmond, who had pulled a chair up to the booth and was sitting with his back to Gomez, to tell him to "scoot back." Gomez responded by slapping the back of Richmond's head, or at least his backward-facing baseball cap, and Richmond jumped up and punched Gomez.

Dia had just emerged from the booth, and he and Gomez's son, Miguel, moved toward the men to de-escalate the fight, but Gomez then punched Dia in the face, causing him to stumble backward in a daze.

The fight was soon broken up by other customers in Cafe Mokuteki, and Gomez and the airmen even exchanged a "group hug," prosecutors said.

But a second fight began after Gomez's wife and teenage daughter entered the restaurant, in response to Gomez's phone call, and according to a prosecutor, the major began "throwing her weight around."

Soon, Dia was on the floor, face-up and immobile thanks to being held in a leg lock by Miguel Gomez, who also taught jujitsu. Video showed the senior Gomez, standing behind Dia, use both hands to turn Dia's neck rapidly to the side and punch the airman in the face. Richmond testified that another airman pulled Gomez back as he stomped on Dia's head.

Security forces then entered the cafe and broke up the fight. A supervisor testified that the officers had to handcuff a "very angry" and strong Gomez to a gurney as he yelled repeatedly that Richmond had hit his wife and threatened to kill the airman. Gomez was taken to a medical clinic where he received five stitches to close a gash over his eye. He also suffered a perforated eardrum.

While he was the only one of the men to receive emergency treatment that night, the security supervisor testified that when officers arrived, they saw Dia sitting back in the booth, having trouble keeping his head up without assistance.

In a victim impact statement, Dia said he suffered traumatic brain injury as a result of the attack, which also left him with migraines, memory loss, confusion and cognitive issues that have cost him his job. While Rodrigo Gomez's attorney, Molly Sullivan, argued that no medical records were introduced to show that any ailments from which Dia suffers were related to the brawl, prosecutor Frank Rangoussis said medical records corroborate the claims.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Gomez faced 57 to 71 months -- or 4.75 to nearly six years -- in prison.

Sullivan argued for a probationary sentence, saying the incident "was completely uncharacteristic" of the stay-at-home father who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after being robbed at gunpoint while working at an Applebee's in Little Rock years earlier, when his wife was stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville.

She said that on the night of the brawl, which occurred the night before New Year's Eve, Gomez had seen an airman who had recently sent one of the Gomez daughters some inappropriate photographs and videos, for which he was later convicted. That encounter, combined with being drunk and having ingested too much testosterone, led to his uncharacteristic behavior when provoked by one of the airmen, she said.

Sullivan said the brawl has cost the close-knit family about $100,000 by forcing them to live off-base in more expensive housing while also causing him to lose his job. She said that "since that night, he has not had any alcohol."

Gomez, who didn't testify at his trial, told the judge, "I am so sorry for what happened to Dia, to the other airmen and most of all, to my family. ... I know we're here because of me. ... Whatever the punishment, I will accept anything, sir, because it was my action that caused everything."

Rangoussis, an attorney with the Department of Justice, countered that social media posts that Gomez posted after the brawl, as well as a confrontation at a post office with the man who was later convicted of sending inappropriate images to Gomez's daughter, show that his behavior that night wasn't unusual. Rangoussis said Gomez's confrontation resulted in him being put on probation at the air base with the potential of being kicked off the base, and the probation expired the day before the brawl.

"I do not believe that that remorse is real," Rangoussis said.

Moody told Gomez, "The way I see it is you made a 15-minute mistake that could have killed somebody."

In ordering him to participate while in prison in anger-management counseling, he said, "I don't think drinking is your problem. I think anger is."

Earlier in the day, Moody sentenced Miguel Gomez, 21, to four years of probation for his guilty plea to an assault charge.

The charges on which the elder Gomez was convicted were attempted voluntary manslaughter, assault with a dangerous weapon (a shod foot), making a false statement, resisting a federal officer and three misdemeanor counts of assault by striking.

Metro on 07/11/2019

Print Headline: For '16 brawl, jujitsu teacher sent to prison

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