Slain Farmworker Draws Concerns in Woodland

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PimentelAll Eyes Are on Vice Mayor Art Pimentel –

It was nearly a year ago when Ricardo Abrahams was killed following a tasering incident in Woodland.  Now, on April 30 of this year, 26-year-old Luis Gutierrez, a 26-year-old farmworker with no apparent criminal record was killed following a routine check by gang-suppression officers from the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department.

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.”

Sangree continues:

“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

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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14 thoughts on “Slain Farmworker Draws Concerns in Woodland”

  1. Sue C

    I have noticed that people in law enforcement tend to like power over others. They will justify what they do or what happens and get away with it because others won’t question them and their authority.

    What I take from this incident, and many others, is that a young man found himself confronted with three other young men who probably looked like gang members and ran. When he found himself cornered, he tried to defend himself and was shot to death. We won’t know if he really understood that these were police or if the police were trained to identify themselves adequately. I do think shooting someone over a 4 inch knife is a bit “overkill”. I sometimes carry one in my backpack. They aren’t all that lethal.

    From things that have happened myself and to people I know, I think it’s possible that the drugs “found in his system” could have been planted by someone with access to the lab samples or data. Some policemen are not very nice people.

    I don’t think this is a racial issue as much as it is a power issue. I thank the news reporters and the Vanguard for pressing for answers. Maybe we will see change in my lifetime.

  2. alphonso

    The Sheriff claimed Mr. Gutierrez pulled out a knife and was later found to have meth in his system -that is a deadly combination. That said, Mr. Gutierrez had just left the DMV where he had contacted people to get his drivers license. I do not understand how he could deal with the DMV while high on drugs. Just as important why he was stopped? and even more important why was he pursued after the initial contact? Mr. Gutierrez had no right to pull a knife on anyone but the officers were responsible for initiating and escalating the situation.
    My view is that a certain level of conflict arises each time a police officers stops someone – an invasion of space. I know profiling is going on and most of that in the Central Valley involves “Mexicans”. The problem is each stop creates conflict and conflict raises the risk of something bad happening. I suppose a gang suppression unit has to contact suspected gang members although I wonder about timing – why three gang suppression officers in one car looking for gang members in the middle of the afternoon when most of the gang activity is at night? Once contact is made the officers must have known Mr. Gutierrez had the right to leave because there was no probable cause for the contact – so why did they chase him?

  3. David M. Greenwald

    For me, a critical question is at what point did the men identify themselves as Sheriff’s Deputies.

    I’ll be interviewing Vice Mayor Pimentel late this afternoon.

  4. Julian

    Harassment of latinos and violations of their civil rights will continue until city leaders and the police officers involved are held accountable. There is too much of this going on in California. There is another similar problem in West Sacramento.

    It is interesting that, in West Sacramento, there is currently a gang injunction in place when there is no gang. The residents of Broderick and Bryte are routinely stopped and harassed by the West Sacramento Police Department (WSPD). West Sacramento has a history of out of court settlements against their WSPD involving their overzealous K-9 Unit. A judge recently granted payment to two women who were visiting from another country and who were physically manhandled by the WSPD.

    Residents are coming to realize that, when law enforcement oversteps its bounds and residents are physically injured, suing the city may be a way to get the attention of city leaders that the WSPD needs to be reigned in. I’m aware that some lawsuits have been recently filed.

    Another interesting point to the West Sac story is that the injunction was put in place, not to fight gang problems, but rather as a means for the city to gentrify West Sacramento and ultimately to invoke eminent domain to take the homes of Latino residents of Broderick and Bryte. Public records show that developers were significant contibutors to Yolo Co. DA Reisig’s, and West Sac Mayor Cabaldon’s election campaigns.

    Broderick and Bryte sits between two much more affluent communities, the Rivers to the north and Southport to the south. You do the math.

  5. Ryan Kelly

    This is a race issue. It doesn’t help the community to side step this issue. There is no “getting beyond” this. The man would not have been targeted by the Gang Task Force, if not for the fact that he was a young Mexican-american man walking in Woodland. Yes, Woodland has a gang problem, but this doesn’t excuse killing someone. It’s weird that there is not more outrage in the Woodland community. Is is fear or apathy, I wonder?

  6. Frankly

    “For me, a critical question is at what point did the men identify themselves as Sheriff’s Deputies.”

    Assuming they did identify themselves as Sheriff’s Deputies before the shooting, of equal interest is a critical question about the demeanor and behavior of Mr. Gutierrez.

    Law-abiding citizens do not run from people identifying themselves as law enforcement, and they certainly do not pull a knife of any size. Unless there is proof of gross misconduct from these officers, even if Mr. Gutierrez failed to understand their intent and purpose, his response to them was one indicative of a non-law abiding person… or at least indicative that he associates with other criminal elements and so has reason to fear violence against him by these three men. He had meth in his system, so it is apparent that he at least had associations with people dealing the drug.

    I guess we can seek to excuse all forms of poor judgment from people being confronted by law enforcement and hold cops to a high standard of intuition for the circumstances. However, this is not reasonable. Cops are trained to quickly assess risks and appropriately respond. At some point don’t we have to levy some responsibility on those confronted to behave in a manner that does not cause cops to assess a higher risk factor? If you dress like a gang banger and behave like one, then isn’t it rational to assume that the confronting cop would assess a higher risk and be at a higher stress level? This isn’t a racial issue, because a gruff, white guy dressed as a Hells Angels biker is going to cause similar stress for a cop. Young males are already at a disadvantage to cause a cop added stress since they by far commit most of the crime. They need to be on their best behavior at all times.

    I have been stopped for traffic violations before. I pull over to a safe area, keep both hands on the wheel so the officer can see them, do as asked/told and respond respectfully and kindly no matter what the circumstances. 100% of the time I am treated with respect because I made the officers job that much easier. I assume Mr. Gutierrez would be alive today had he behaved like a respectful and kind law-abiding citizen.

    One of the problems I have with anti-law enforcement activists is that they perpetuate disdain for cops and actually might cause their constituents a greater likelihood of using poor judgment when confronted; thereby putting them at greater risk. Maybe instead of expending all this energy to bash the cops, activists should visit schools and train youngsters how to respect law enforcement and how to behave when confronted. It might save a life one day.

  7. Im still stuck here

    “Assuming they did identify themselves as Sheriff’s Deputies before the shooting”

    Why are you making that assumption? If he ran from identified police officers, that begins to put blame in his direction. But did he? We need to know that first.

  8. Along the same lines

    Jeff is making an assumption about a behavior. He said that “Law-abiding citizens do not run from people identifying themselves as law enforcement” – that’s not necessarily true in the minority communities. I agree with the previous poster that we are making a huge leap to assume these were identified police officers and that he understood that identification.

  9. concerned citizen

    Jeff Boone:

    1) What if law abiding citizens do not know that undercover officers are in fact truly officers? Since they are undercover and not in uniform it might scare any reasonable person and cause them to run.

    Artemio Pimentel:

    1) You want the public to be “calm” and take a “deep breath?” If it was a relative of yours that was killed you would in fact be asking for an INDEPENDENT review instead of a review by peers.

    This is very, very disturbing. I think the AG’s office needs to be called in to investigate.

  10. Rich Rifkin

    [quote]I have noticed that people in law enforcement tend to like power over others.[/quote]People who have power of any kind like to “power over others.” I’m sure you’ve heard the dictum of the great Catholic thinker, Lord Acton, about the tendency of power to corrupt. I don’t think police officers as a class are different than others with power. It’s human nature. It’s the reason Madison in Federalist 51 wrote, “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” [quote]What I take from this incident, and many others, is that a young man found himself confronted with three other young men who probably looked like gang members and ran. When he found himself cornered, he tried to defend himself and was shot to death. We won’t know if he really understood that these were police or if the police were trained to identify themselves adequately.[/quote] Unless you have inside information unavailable to the public, this is an unfair rush to judgment against the police. I suggest you wait for the facts to be presented before you draw a conclusion, let alone describe the events you did not witness. [quote] I do think shooting someone over a 4 inch knife is a bit “overkill”. [/quote]A knife can obviously be a deadly weapon. A four-inch knife can kill a human being. It is possible that the police were entirely wrong and the dead man was an innocent victim. However, we (who did not witness this event and have no recourse to unrevealed investagatory facts) should not draw such extreme and condemnatory conclusions. [quote]I sometimes carry one in my backpack. They aren’t all that lethal. [/quote]It all depends on the quality of the knife and the intentions of the person wielding the weapon. [quote]From things that have happened myself and to people I know, I think it’s possible that the drugs “found in his system” could have been planted by someone with access to the lab samples or data.[/quote] Possible? Does that mean anything in this context? Is there any history of Yolo County lab technicians contaminating samples of homicide victims to make it look like the dead person was on drugs when he was not? I’m willing to bet a lot of money the answer is no. Your unfounded conspiratorial assertion is absurd, unfair and idiotic.

    Keep in mind that a person can be on drugs and still be a victim. We don’t yet know in this case.

  11. Rich Rifkin

    [quote]Nevertheless, I disagree with him that this is not a Latino issue.[/quote]Why is it a Latino issue? Would it be a Polish issue if the man who was killed had roots in Poland? Unless you have substantiated evidence to suggest that his race/ethnicity played a role in this case — it might have; I don’t know — I wonder why you would jump to this conclusion?

  12. Rich Rifkin

    [quote]Assuming they did identify themselves as Sheriff’s Deputies before the shooting, of equal interest is a critical question about the demeanor and behavior of Mr. Gutierrez. [/quote] I wouldn’t make that assumption, yet.

    It’s possible, if Mr. Gutierrez determined (based on the way he was approached) by the officers that they were [i]not police.[/i] Just because three men with guns run at you and say they are cops, it’s not unreasonable in some circumstances to be afraid, to act afraid, and to try to run or defend yourself. [quote]Law-abiding citizens do not run from people identifying themselves as law enforcement, and they certainly do not pull a knife of any size.[/quote] They might. It really depends on how they were approached. I don’t think it unreasonable to think that officers in a gang-suppression unit could be trained to appear like gang members; and if Gutierrez was himself not a gang member, he might have incorrectly thought that these guys were lying when they said they were cops. He might have thought he was being robbed or some such thing by criminals.

  13. Sue C

    Rich Rifkin is correct that we snouldn’t make assumptions before an investigation is completed. I once was very trusting of law enforcement, but felt compelled to write an interpretation of a scenario to illustrate how it need not have happened as police will tell it. I know how they can be very disrespectful and hurtful of the citizens they are suppose to protect. The fact that they did not contact the family except with a search warrant is a sign of disrespect. Prieto not sending condolences or interviewing the deputies weeks after the fact shows a certain lack of compassion for the family.

    A coworker, one of the kindest, most law-abiding person I know, had her home trashed when officers came knocking on her door with a search warrant. She had to sit handcuffed on the curb in front of neighbors while they dumped out every drawer in the place looking for evidence linking her husband to a crime. Of course, they did not put things back where they found them!

    A couple African-American friends are frequently stopped in Davis while driving, one so often that he carries a taperecorder. The police during these encounters are hardly polite and respectful.

    I had a deputy rip open a wound on my hand while fingerprinting me just for a business license. Certainly not a nice thing to do.

    I am not saying that all police are this way, but please do not put them on a pedestal and take what they say with a grain, maybe a pound of salt. BTW, When I say planting evidence is “possible,” I mean just that. I did not say that it happened for sure in this case, but it should be on the table. And my statement is certainly not idiotic.

    Rich seems awfully hostile in his comments to people on both sides of the issue. Maybe he needs to stop drinking Davis tap water.

  14. Rich Rifkin

    [quote]Rich seems awfully hostile in his comments to people on both sides of the issue.[/quote]Hostile? That’s a terribly inflamatory word.

    I think, without more information, it’s wrong to jump to conclusions. I am not willing to condemn the behavior or actions of the dead man, even if he had used drugs at some point. It’s not unthinkable that in running away and pulling out a knife, he thought he was protecting himself from attackers; at the same time, I don’t see the evidence to condemn the actions of the police, yet. I do agree that an impartial, outside investigation needs to be done. The cops cannot investigate themselves.

    Regardless of what the facts prove in terms of blame, it is indeed a terrible tragedy.

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