Political Leaders from Woodland and the County Completely Absent From Event
The march which was led by the family of Mr. Gutierrez followed the route that he took in the last moments of his life.
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.
On Saturday, the Woodland Daily Democrat joined this chorus with an editorial that called on a “State Justice Review” of the shooting.
“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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
—David M. Greenwald reporting