Can you describe the latest that you know about the circumstances around the death of Mr. Gutierrez?
In terms of what I know, unfortunately a young man is dead. There was an incident between Sheriff’s Deputies, the Gang Task Force in Woodland and there’s an investigation going on. That’s what I know now. I don’t have any evidence or know any facts yet. I think like everybody else, I’m waiting for the investigation to take place. The evidence will be collected by the Woodland Police Department and turned over to the District Attorney’s Office. That’s what I know right now.
Well the Woodland Police Department is basically heading the collection of evidence, that’s my understanding. What they’re doing is going out, gathering all of the evidence, determining what they know, interviewing witnesses, interviewing people from the very beginning, trying to fit the pieces together, and then they’ll hand that over to the District Attorney’s Office.
Do you see a need for an impartial third party to conduct this investigation at all?
Right now, I’m waiting for this investigation to be completed. Once it’s completed if it merits or if I feel, certainly if the community feels that there needs to be a third party investigation that takes place, then we’ll decide that. I know it’s really difficult and trust me I’ve been… I’m sure you’ve read in the papers that I’ve had a lot of people contact me on this. People are concerned. And the reality is that people should be concerned. They have the right to be concerned. They have the right to question the authorities. They have the right to question the police.
Unfortunately this surrounds a tragedy. This is a tragedy–a human being is dead. But I don’t want to jump to any conclusions. I don’t want to make any assumptions. Although this is very difficult–I’m sure it’s even more difficult for the Gutierrez family–I’m going to wait to see what this investigation finds and what evidence exists and go from there.
Doesn’t that somewhat color perceptions to have this initial investigation done by perhaps a party that is not impartial?
I have trust and faith in the process. I believe that our chief of police and our police department will act with integrity–I do. Also on the other end, that our Sheriff Ed Prieto will look into exactly what transpired that afternoon. The evidence that’s collected, the facts… The other side is that the individual that would be a witness is the deceased. That’s the unfortunate situation in this.
But like I said, I just don’t want to make any assumptions. I’ve heard it all in terms of the individual, I’ve heard rumors of what happened, I’ve heard everything in terms of the Sheriffs, people’s concerns about the Sheriffs covering, the guy clearly wanting to stab the Sheriff’s deputies. Regardless of which side, I ask that people be patient and take a step back and allow the process to take place. Once it’s conducted, once the appropriate process that’s been established takes place, and we still have questions, or a further investigation is merited, then we’ll request one at that time. But right now I just feel that we need to be patient.
I’ve told that to the Latino Community. Anyone that’s contacted me–I’ve said this before to these other reporters that have contacted me–to me this really isn’t–people can argue this all they want–this isn’t a Latino issue, it isn’t a Mexican issue, it’s a community issue. If in fact, Luis was involved in gang activity–I don’t know how that’s going to be proven again we’re waiting for this investigation, we don’t know.
That’s the root of the problem in the county, and in the state, and that is why do we have such a huge gang problem? That’s what I believe is a community, as a core issue. We should be concerned that this young man died and we should be concerned with what could have happened if he would have stabbed one of the police officers.
Pressed him on the point about not seeing this as a Latino Issue…
Do I agree with you that racial profiling is wrong? Yes, it’s absolutely wrong. Do I agree that it happens in our communities? It does. Do we have a bad history of it happening to Mexicans? To Latinos? I’m Mexican myself. My parents are both Mexican, they were born in Mexico. I’m proud of that. I was born and raised in Woodland. I’ve lived here my entire life. Is there a culture of people being scared, especially of Mexicans being scared of authorities? Yes. That’s a problem, that’s history, that does have something to do with culture.
Just in terms of my personal perspective, my parents never taught me to fear police. I understand that. I’m concerned that there’s discrimination out there. I don’t see this a Latino issue necessarily as it is an American problem. We should be questioning if Luis had the same access to education as everybody else. If we was involved, because now we have the issue as to whether Luis was a gang member or an affiliation to gangs, why? What are we not doing in terms of local officials, or local elected officials, or county officials, to address this problem. Because it’s one of the reasons I ran for city council in the first place, to address issues of youth, youth programs, and a different perspective in terms of representing people that were from law economic backgrounds, farm workers–my parents were both farm workers… It ties a lot of different problems that we have in society. Why is it that 80 to 90% of the identified gang members in Woodland are Mexican or Latinos? Why is that? That’s what we have to deal with. We have to be honest with ourselves regardless, but we have to get to the root of the issue. Equality and justice and access to education, that’s kind of the main issue I would like to focus on.
I spoke to Mr. Gutierrez, Luis’ dad, last Tuesday. It was very difficult for both of us. I was trying to explain the situation because he can’t comprehend and it’s understandable. The mom blames herself because she feels like maybe she should have waited for him. He took his exam and so forth. The dad wants answers. Hopefully those will come with this investigation.
Referencing Sac Bee article about Police Agencies investigating themselves–ask about police oversight and whether law enforcement can investigate itself…
I can see where people would be concerned that you have law enforcement overseeing law enforcement. In this case, I do think it’s the responsibility of local officials to investigate local officials to determine if they do trust that process. I do believe, and I believe this wholehearted, that Ed Prieto is going to review this situation, gather evidence, and make any changes that there needs to be–that he will do the right thing. If there was any wrongdoing on the part of the Sheriffs, if any evidence is found, I have trust in him. I also have trust in our Chief of Police and the investigation and the integrity of the officers that the information will be collected. You have the other issue of the family and some of their concerns about what happened, and they know their son better than anyone else, and someone, I hope us the elected official, will also represent them and address his concerns that he might have. That he will be able to go through the judicial process if he sees fit and if he disagrees, and certainly if I disagree, if I feel that there was misconduct, or if the investigation wasn’t done appropriately, I feel it is the responsibility of local elected officials to make sure that things are done correctly.
Don’t you think the family will always have questions if the officer is exonerated in this process?
Are they going to have questions? Absolutely. Not just the family, residents and citizens are going to have questions. My concern is first and foremost that we do address and find out exactly what happened. Second, I think that we need to get away from the issue that this is a Latino issue. It’s unfortunate but I don’t want to make this a race–I don’t think that it’s a race issue. Again there’s no evidence that shows that–two of the Sheriffs Deputies were Latinos.
This whole incident is getting a lot of attention and it should. Like I said earlier, it should get a lot of attention because a young man is dead. Things come back to the root of the problem in society. I think if you look at either side, the common denominator is that there is concern on both sides. What would have happened if Luis would have stabbed one of the Sheriff’s officers? What would that family be doing and so forth. I think that we just need to wait for this investigation.
Ask about community policing, you have a gang task force made up of multiple jurisdictions–what if you had beat officers who were on the street and familiar with the players–could this incident have been avoided?
Again what comes to mind is some the questions that we need to ask authorities. After this investigation should there be changes in tactics? Should there be changes in the way that we’re addressing the gang issue? I don’t believe that we are going to end gang activity in Woodland, or Davis, or West Sacramento, or Winters until we balance enforcement and community programs. You can’t just have enforcement, you have to have a balance of both. That’s the positive thing that could come out of this, is that we start realizing that more and more. I think we do a pretty good job in terms of balancing that. I would love to have more youth programs and I would love to fund them as much as we possibly can. We’re working toward that but unfortunately we can’t everything. Those two things need to work together.
When this is done what do you want to know and what do you want to ask?
I want to know the truth. Everybody else on each side of this issue whether you are African-America, white, Mexican, Latino, you want to know the truth.
There is also going to be a gray area…
That’s with any issue there’s going to be a gray area. You’re always going to have questions. My concern is that the truth comes out. That’s my concern.
And what questions would ask at the end of this process?
The question I would ask is could we have avoided the death of Luis Guitierrez? Could we have helped him at a younger age to help him not be in gangs or associated with gangs–if that’s indeed what he was that he was involved in gangs. There’s people that have told me, look at his picture, look at his picture in the paper, the Sacramento Bee, he had to have been in a gang. Which really annoys me because that’s absolutely what we want to avoid. That you look at someone and say, that guy, he’s a gang member. That guy’s wearing a red t-shirt, that that guy is a gang member. We need to bring more education and knowledge of your community. That’s what I think I would ask is what could we have done to try to prevent this death. It’s a human being.
Asked about whether he would support a county level police oversight with shared costs between the jurisdictions…
I guess I would certainly consider it. At this point in time, I think that our officials have been doing a very good job enforcing the law. I have confidence in the city of Woodland and in our police chief and police department. I’ll be very straightforward, if I at any time felt like there was discrimination or foul play or misconduct on the part of the officers, I would be the first to be jumping to address these things. I think our chief of Police has done a very good job. Look at our department, it very closely reflects our community. That’s one of the things that Chief Carey Sullivan addressed. Those types of things are important and we overlook those things.
I would certainly consider it, I don’t know that it’s necessary. If these incidents were happening on a regular basis, on a month to month basis, absolutely. Or on a yearly basis we were having a young individual that was thought to be in a gang and whatever the situation that you could come up it, then yes.
You did have a different kind of incident last year…
I think that’s a complete different situation.
—David M. Greenwald reporting