Hundreds in Woodland March Calling For Independent Investigation in Death of Gutierrez

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Political Leaders from Woodland and the County Completely Absent From Event

In an event attended by hundreds of Woodland residents and many from across the county and the region, labor leader Al Rojas and religious leaders called for an independent investigation into the April 30 shooting death of 26-year-old farm worker Luis Gutierrez.  Mr. Gutierrez was shot and killed by Yolo County Sheriff’s Deputies as he walked home from the DMV on the Gum Avenue overpass in Woodland.

The march which was led by the family of Mr. Gutierrez followed the route that he took in the last moments of his life.

Individuals expressed anger and frustration at authorities and also the political leaders.  They called for an independent investigation into his death.

This call was proceeded by an increasing chorus of people who believe that there must be an independent review of the events that led to the death of the young farm worker.

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On Saturday, the Woodland Daily Democrat joined this chorus with an editorial that called on a “State Justice Review” of the shooting.

They wrote:

“We have tried to be patient while Woodland Police officials have investigated the tragic death last month of 26-year-old Luis Gutierrez, who was shot by Yolo County sheriff’s deputies on the anti-gang task force while he was walking home from the DMV on the Gum Avenue overpass.”

However, they expressed concern about the amount of information that has come out of the Sheriff’s department in advance of the completed investigation.  People I have spoken with familiar with such proceedings have characterized that as highly unusual and aggressive.

The Democrat wrote:

“What we are concerned about is the amount of information coming out of the Sheriff’s Department before the investigation was complete. The details emerging served to inflame the passions of those who believe Gutierrez was targeted as either a Latino or a gang member. Claims that Gutierrez was on meth were also reported before the coroner had made his findings public. Then there were the number of shots fired: Now reported as six vs. the four originally claimed.”

They conclude:

“Perhaps we’re being a parochial, but we think the investigation being done by Woodland law enforcement will provide enough information to the DA’s Office so a just decision can be reached. However, in view of all the claims and counter claims being made, we feel the matter has progressed and needs an independent review by the state Justice Department.

Too many questions have been raised about this tragedy. Specific answers are needed from an independent source. We ask the DA’s Office to request the state Justice Department to intercede so we can be sure of the answers provided.”

They were joined by calls earlier in the week from a number of local Latino elected officials–none of whom ended up attending this event–a fact that was not missed by the attendees.

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Cirenio Rodriguez who serves as a trustee for the Yolo County Office of Education told the Sacramento Bee on Thursday:

“At this particular time, the credibility of the law enforcement agencies is being questioned.” He said that he has “total confidence” in the Woodland police investigation. “But we need an outside group to review what happened.”

County Superintendent of Schools Jorge Ayala:

“Even though they are independent, there is a lot of perception that there may be collusion.  It’s good to have another objective body reviewing the facts.”

The Bee quoted Vice Mayor Art Pimentel as calling for an independent review as well:

“I believe it is appropriate that an independent review be conducted to allay community concerns.”

This marked a steep departure from his interview with the Vanguard from two weeks ago where he steadfastly declined such a call.

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The Vanguard at that time directly asked: “Do you see a need for an impartial third party to conduct this investigation at all?”

He responded no.

“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.”

He later expressed complete faith in the process.

“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.”

On Saturday night, the mood was one of anger and somber at the same time.  The group gathered at the top of the Gum overpass to pray in English and Spanish in front of a memorial to the fallen young man.

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At times, his family was overcome with grief during the course of this journey.

The Vanguard joins the call for the independent review.  What many do not understand is that for the sake of the officers involved, there needs to be no question and no doubt in anyone’s mind as to what happened.  The Attorney General’s office is an appropriate first stop.  It seems like the only responsible thing for the authorities to do to regain the trust of this segment of the public.

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—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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25 thoughts on “Hundreds in Woodland March Calling For Independent Investigation in Death of Gutierrez”

  1. martin

    I don’t know what an independent investigation is. If there is such a thing, the County should provide for it as a County ordinance so that everyone has that option available to them if they question a County action. Will the protestors ask for Brenda Cedarblade to have an independent investigation? If not, is she a non-citizen with less rights than the protestors?

    These protestors appear to believe that they have more rights than the other Yolo County residents. I am sorry that I don’t agree.

  2. I think the point is

    That it’s pretty standard to have an independent investigation when there is an inherent conflict of interest. It’s not asking for special rights.

  3. there should be an independent investigation

    Neither the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department nor Yolo County itself can be trusted to do a non-biased investigation of this tragedy, as both are direct stakeholders in the outcome of any investigation. If the Sheriff’s Department or the County itself were to find wrongdoing by their deputies, the County could be liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution for a negligently caused death. The County has a vested interest in finding no fault with their deputies or with the internal investigation by the Sheriff’s Department that exonerates them.

    Calling for an independent investigation conducted by outside experts is appropriate in this situation. It would be wise for Yolo County and the Sheriff’s Department to ask for an independent investigation—recusing themselves; otherwise any investigation conducted by them that exonerates the deputies will have the appearance of self-preservation.

  4. there should be an independent investigation

    A better way of stating it:

    It would be wise for Yolo County and the Sheriff’s Department to ask for an independent investigation—recusing themselves; otherwise any investigation conducted by them that exonerates the deputies will have the appearance of being self-serving.

  5. Yesenia

    25 year old farm worker Luis was shot to DEATH and we STILL don’t know why. Will I trust the police to investigate themselves? NO! I want clarity and transparency from this case- two demands that haven’t been provided thus so far! I want the truth- no lies like the ones they’ve been trying to feed the public. e.g: “He was on meth” Then how do you explain not finding any “tools” he would’ve used to consume the meth? How do you explain him passing the driver’s test?

    Because from the very beginning shady “facts” were reported by Ed Prieto..it is good enough not to trust their investigation. So sir “martin” if you felt that we “think too much of ourselves” you’re extremely wrong. We’re exercising our right to protest and what we demand very well applies and makes sense to this case. WE WANT AN INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION IF THEY’RE “INVESTIGATION” DOESN’T ANSWER ALL OF OUR QUESTIONS!

    WHY WAS HE SHOT IN THE BACK AND NOT IN THE LEG? WHY WAS HE APPROACHED? BECAUSE HE WAS BROWN? BECAUSE HE WAS SIMPLY WALKING DOWN THE STREET? WHY ARE WERE BULLET FRAGMENTS FOUND IN FRONT OF HIS FACE? BECAUSE HE WAS ALREADY LYING FACE DOWN WHEN HE WAS SHOT, THAT’S WHY!! AND WHY DID THE SHERIFFS SAY IT WAS 4 SHOTS THEN 6? WHY ARE THEY ACCUSING HIM OF A GANG MEMBER WHEN HE HAS NO CRIMINAL RECORD? WHY ARE THEY ACCUSING HIM OF A GANG MEMBER BASED ON SOME STUPID BANDANNAS FOUND AT HIS HOME AND NOT ON HIM WHEN HE WAS SHOT?

    NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW-NOT EVEN THOSE WHO ENFORCE IT. WE WANT JUSTICE!!!

  6. Seeking Independent Investigation

    Martin,

    If you don’t know what an independent investigation is, then why do you comment on the fact that others are demanding one?

    Yes, there is such a thing. Just because you do not know about it does not mean that it does not exist.

    You then ask another question that is way out in space. You ask, “Will the protestors ask for Brenda Cedarblade to have an independent investigation? If not, is she a non-citizen with less rights than the protestors?” That is a separate issue and not all of us know or are involved or concerned about it, but if she and others, such as yourself, wish to have her issue investigated then by all means please do request it.

    You then say an asinine thing like, “These protestors appear to believe that they have more rights than the other Yolo County residents. I am sorry that I don’t agree.”

    I am always suspect, yes, I did say, “always,” suspect when someone uses the word “these.” Such as “these” people “these” protesters. We are simply taxpayers and want justice in the form of an independent investigation.

    Now, go get educated on the issue. You have a lot to learn.

  7. alphonso

    The Judicial system does a very poor job of evaluating and dealing with poor police behavior. The State AG really needs to step in and perform a credible investigation.
    Currently there are two police shooting investigations going on and they are going opposite directions. The case in Oakland is headed for a Murder trial for the BART officer who shot a suspect. To me it is quite obvious the officer pulled out the wrong weapon and shot the suspect with his revolver when he really meant to use his taser. Blatent reverse racism has taken over, even in the court system, and the officer is facing murder instead of manslaughter. This is one extreme. Then the Woodland case is going the more normal other way. Instead of taking responsibility the police are trying to place all of blame on the victim and will probably get away with it. No question drugs and knife might have been the deadly factor, but if the three officers had not gone out of the way to torment the person nothing would have happened.

    I do not trust the process in either of the two cases. I am a tax payer and a great deal of my money is going to fund public security (police, DA and judges. I have very little trust in how those three services are being performed.

  8. Hello

    “I have very little trust in how those three services are being performed.”

    Yes, I agree w you. How would anyone stopped on the street, in the middle of the night, by a police undercover unit, know that he was being stopped by the police, and not be thugs? Just because the undercover unit said “Stop, police!” or showed badges that can be purchased through a mailorder catalogue? I have a problem with undercover police stopping citizens at all. That is what uniformed police are for. Hello!

  9. Both Ways

    I am sure if the report comes out against the Police officers we will not see these same people asking for a new investigation. They would hold it up high and claim it a victory. Give me a break. You have 4 cops and one eye witness. Your telling me they can all keep a lie straight. Whatever.

    This is a Latino problem. Let’s face that fact. 95% of Gang members in Woodland are Latino. Maybe the Latino community should be out marching against gangs? Figuring out why so many latinos in this area are falling into this trap would be the way to go.

  10. alphonso

    Maybe the Latino community should be out marching against gangs?

    Agreed!

    I worry that since 95% of the gang members are Latino the assumption is 95% of Latinos are gang members. There has to reasonable response to the problem rather than one that targets all Latinos simply because some are gang members. I think a bad response can be and often is incited by police officers. There is something to be learned on both sides of this.

  11. David M. Greenwald

    “I am sure if the report comes out against the Police officers we will not see these same people asking for a new investigation.”

    I think that’s a fair point. But I think in part that is driven by the assumption that the Woodland PD is not going to rule against the Sheriff’s Deputies.

    There is also a tendency right or wrong to give more credibility to reports that go against what one would normally expect than reports that basically confirm what you’ve expected.

    That said, for me personally I think process is almost more important than outcomes. We set up the constitution not only to protect rights but to set up processes and procedures that lend themselves to the protection of individual rights against the state. One of those is the notion of separation of powers and inherent in them is the idea that there be checks and balances against self-interest and a tyranny of the majority against the minority. The idea of third parties conducting investigations falls neatly under this conception and I think regardless of the outcome, we ought to have a third party examine it, though as you suggest, there will not be the loud cries if it is the Sheriffs who are faulted.

  12. A Hispanic

    Based (only) on the info so far available,
    a person wielded a deadly weapon (hnife)in a threatening manner against another person. The other person, as authorized by our laws, responded in the only manner proper to stop that deadly force…by employing deadly force himself.
    No other factors matter.
    If you wish to have our laws changed, contact your elected representatives or start a voter initiative.
    If you dislike the way our local elected officals act, vote them out next election or start a recall effort.
    Also,
    it is entirely proper to question authority. Questioning helps us all. My only concern is when efforts are wasted on an undeserving incident. Like crying wolf, sort of. It lessens your effectiveness when it really matters.
    Here … deadly force was met with deadly force, as authorized by law.

  13. David M. Greenwald

    “Based (only) on the info so far available,
    a person wielded a deadly weapon (hnife)in a threatening manner against another person. The other person, as authorized by our laws, responded in the only manner proper to stop that deadly force…by employing deadly force himself.
    No other factors matter.”

    Here’s what we do not know that will add context to the situation:

    First, why was he approached to begin with?
    Second, at what point did they identify themselves as police officers?
    Third, at what point did he wield the knife? Did he know that his pursuers were actually police officers?
    Fourth, did he pose an actual threat at the time they shot–was lethal force the only means by which to prevent a potentially deadly confrontation?
    Fifth, if he was hyped up on crank, how was it he was able to take and pass a driving test?

    All of these matter.

  14. Mr.

    Yesenia,

    I agree that there needs to be an investigation but let me clarify a few things for you and others.
    WHY WAS HE SHOT IN THE BACK AND NOT IN THE LEG?
    Police officers are taught that if there is a necessity to draw their weapon and fire at someone they should have reason to kill the person. They do not fire a gun to injure or slow someone down. If there is not reason to kill the person, they should not be firing their weapon.

    WHY WAS HE APPROACHED? Good Question.
    BECAUSE HE WAS BROWN? Don’t play the race card. These guys deal with gangbangers of all shapes colors and sizes every day.
    WHY ARE WERE BULLET FRAGMENTS FOUND IN FRONT OF HIS FACE? The bullet fragments were not entering his face, they were exiting.
    AND WHY DID THE SHERIFFS SAY IT WAS 4 SHOTS THEN 6? Good question.
    I have also heard:
    HE WASN’T HIGH, THEY INJECTED HIM WITH METH! According to the coroners report meth was found throughout his organs. In order for the blood to pump the meth to his organs, he would have had to be alive and some time would have to have passed before he died.
    WHY DIDN’T THEY TASER HIM? Gang task force members do not normally carry Taser guns.

  15. This is very instructive

    “BECAUSE HE WAS BROWN? Don’t play the race card. These guys deal with gangbangers of all shapes colors and sizes every day.”

    On the one hand, don’t play the race card. On the other hand, you seem to acknowledge the presumption that they thought he was a “gangbanger” therefore the race card is played–brown=gangbanger. They didn’t shoot him because he was brown, they shot because they presumed he was a banger. Isn’t that what you are telling us?

  16. This is very instructive

    To me this still comes down to the question, why did they contact him to begin with and if the answer is they thought he was a gangbanger rather than he was doing something wrong, then we indeed have a problem.

  17. Stopping

    Police can talk to anyone they want. Maybe they wanted to ask him about a fight that happened, maybe he was a wittness, maybe he was a person of interest. Why would they waste their time talking to him if it was not worth while. That has no bearing. You have all of these questions, yet you are not patient enough for the answers. Why don’t you let the investigation be completed before jumping to all these unfounded conclusions.

    You have 4 officers, one eye wittness, there is no way they can keep a lie together. The truth will come out. Most likely you just can’t handle the truth!

  18. Seeking Independent Investigation

    “Police can talk to anyone they want. “

    That’s true, but how he reacts depends on who they approach and why. Again if he thought they were gang members rather than officers, that changes the way the encounter goes.

    “You have 4 officers, one eye wittness, there is no way they can keep a lie together. The truth will come out. Most likely you just can’t handle the truth!”

    That’s pretty speculative on your part. I would like nothing better than the police to have acted completely appropriately–we are all safer and in better condition when that occurs.

  19. Seeking Independent Investigation

    I’ll add you appear to be presuming as well that the truth is going to be clear-cut and definitive rather than some sort of shade of gray which is what I expect to see.

  20. CS Paine

    Maybe Woodland High School could offer a class entitled “When a cop tells you to do something, do it” and the follow up course “If a cop tells you to do something that pisses you off, do it anyway, then find out if what the officer ask was legal, and sue him if it isn’t”

    If that lesson was learned by this individual, he would in all likely hood still be alive.

  21. mr. woodland

    or…Maybe they should offer a course titled “When guys that look like gang members tell you to do something do it,because if not you might get killed,for they might be cops” and then the follow up course “If they weren’t cops, then good luck because that means they are truly gang members”. I would also offer a course titled “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, talks like a duck…then it must be a……”undercover cop”.

  22. CS Pain

    Maybe Woodland High School could offer a class entitled “When a cop tells you to do something, do it” and the follow up course “If a cop tells you to do something that pisses you off, do it anyway, then find out if what the officer ask was legal, and sue him if it isn’t”

    If that lesson was learned by this individual, he would in all likely hood still be alive

    That is just it; the cops were not clearly marked as cops. If gangmembers got out of a car and told you to freeze would you? probably not.

    The problem is that the sheriff has already branded the victim as a gangmember, even though the WPD proved he was not one. Please be more open minded, matt.

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