All Eyes Are on Vice Mayor Art Pimentel –
According to Sheriff Prieto in an interview with the Sacramento Bee last week:
The April 30 encounter turned deadly only after 26-year-old Luis Gutierrez ran from the three plainclothes deputies, then suddenly turned and lunged toward one with a knife, said Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto.
“It’s a horrible chain of events,” Prieto said in an interview in his Woodland office Thursday. “I feel horrible for the family, I really do.”
Vice Mayor Art Pimentel initially called for calm:
“People are overwhelmingly concerned about the incident and want answers to many questions. I think everyone needs to take a deep breath and wait until the investigation is complete.”
Many community activists simply want to know why this indiivdual was stopped in the first place.
Sylvina Frausto, coordinator of Community Alliance for Education, a Woodland community group:
“What was he doing that attracted their attention? Everyone knows we have a gang problem … but why was he stopped?”
On Saturday, the Sacramento Bee’s Hudson Sangree asked a critical question as to why co-workers often investigate shootings by Sacramento area law officers. He writes:
“Legal observers can’t recall an officer-involved shooting in the Sacramento region in recent years that was found to be unjustified following an internal affairs review. But what is the investigative process in such cases? And who gets to decide?
In the two latest cases, law enforcement officers are investigating the conduct of their co-workers. Prosecutors, who work closely with the agencies, will review those findings.
It’s standard procedure in a majority of jurisdictions across the state.”
But some including local civil rights attorney Mark Merin question this process and whether it ensures public accountability.
“You need independent review so the public has confidence in the result.”
“But in many areas, including Woodland and Folsom, the investigation of police shootings is left primarily to local law enforcement. Outside fact-finders – such as judges and jurors – generally get involved only if a lawsuit is filed.
Police and prosecutors say their reviews are unbiased and will root out wrongdoing.”
The case of Mr. Gutierrez is perplexing because the victim had no apparent gang ties and no criminal record.
“In the Woodland case, Yolo County sheriff’s deputies shot and killed Luis Gutierrez, a 26-year-old farmworker, about 2 p.m. April 30. Gutierrez was walking home from the Department of Motor Vehicles after passing his driver’s license test.
Three undercover gang-suppression officers, dressed in plainclothes and driving an unmarked car, stopped Gutierrez to question him about gang activities, according to Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto. Prieto said the shooting occurred after Gutierrez ran from the deputies, then turned and lunged at one with a folding knife.
Gutierrez’s family has questioned the official account, saying he was a homebody with no gang ties or criminal record.”
As mentioned earlier, Woodland’s vice mayor is pleading for calm. To date, I have found his reaction a bit perplexing. Last year, he was very defensive about the tasering case in Woodland, refusing to ask for further investigations after the Attorney General’s office cleared the Woodland Police of any criminal wrongdoing, but did not address civil rights and other issues that would have been non-criminal in nature. Now he has largely sat on the sidelines, urging calm.
Particularly intriguing is the fact that Mr. Pimentel refuses to come to the city of Davis after some alleged racial profiling incident involving Davis police. In the past, he has refused to discuss this with me and the particulars about what happened.
However, in the Sacramento Bee yesterday, in Marcos Breton’s column, he opened up a bit on this latest case.
Art Pimentel, Woodland’s vice mayor, who is pleading for calm in the turbulent aftermath of Gutierrez’s death at the hands of gang suppression officers.
“My concerns are in divisions along racial lines that could (grow) because of this issue,” Pimentel said. “I think we’ve come a long way in race relations in Woodland. I want to get beyond that.”
In this case, brown on brown is anything but black and white. Pimentel’s family knows and socialized with the Gutierrez family. Pimentel’s father is from the same little Mexican town as the Gutierrez family. One of the first people Pimentel had to reassure that this was not a cop-killing of a Mexican was his own father. “I told my dad, ‘We need to step back and not jump to conclusions,’ ” he said.”
Pimentel, 30, is proud of who he is and where he comes from. His Spanish is as solid as his English. He graduated from Sacramento State, where he was the student body president. He will be Woodland’s mayor next year, the second Latino mayor in city history, he said. He ran for elected office to bring his perspective to the council chambers where civic decisions are made.
“I told my dad I was going to make sure that things are done correctly (in the Gutierrez case),” he said.
In advance of a legal determination, this is the story of assimilation in America – how some work on the inside for justice while others scream for it on the outside. In this case, diversity has changed the equation of civic dynamics in ways few could have imagined. It’s made ethnicity a lesser issue to larger concerns.
“In the end, I don’t see this as a Latino issue,” Pimentel said. “I see this as a Woodland community issue. We should all be concerned with what happened.”
Mr. Pimentel naturally appears to be caught in the middle on this issue as his roots appear to be similar to that of Mr. Gutierrez but at the same time he sees a responsibility to the broader community.
Nevertheless, I disagree with him that this is not a Latino issue. This is the type of issue that happens across the state with alarming frequency. I do not know the particulars of what happened in Davis, but Mr. Pimentel of all people ought to be mindful of these facts.
All anyone can ask for is that there be a fair and impartial process by which this incident can be investigated. While I believe that Mr. Prieto, himself a Latino, is a decent and honorable man, I do not think that any agency should have the primary responsibility to investigate one of its own. There should be an independent third party individual or agency assigned to perform such an investigation and look into not just criminal conduct, but also civil conduct.
That is why we fought so hard three years ago to get some sort of independent investigative agency in Davis and why I think Woodland would probably benefit from much of the same.
—David M. Greenwald reporting