No One Recalls Hearing Threats Against Sheriff Prieto Saturday Night

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Having attended the rally and march in Woodland on Saturday night for the fallen Luis Gutierrez, the impression I came away with was that the people were frustrated, but it was a well-coordinated and peaceful march.  In fact, as the hour was getting dark, it became more of a silent vigil than a boisterous march.

I was therefore stunned to see the interview with Sheriff Ed Prieto which came out on Sunday on Fox 40 in Sacramento.

He told Fox 40:

“I can see where people get agitated and they get swept up in the moment. I’m not highly concerned with those things. I’ve heard they made comments like, ‘Muerta Prieto. Kill Prieto. I’m not concerned with that at all.”

I marched all the way to the top of the overpass and had not heard anyone say that.  So asked a number of other attendees including my wife, Cecilia.  She told me they were chanting “No Mas Muertas.”

There was a sign that called for Prieto to be fired.  It was held by one of the cousins of Gutierrez.

I asked Jim Smith, Editor of the Woodland Daily Democrat who was at the event covering it for that newspaper.  He had no such recollection either.

So I called the Sheriff himself to ask him whether he was specifically referring to this march and who told him it.

He told me that he had received calls from people on Gum Ave who were concerned about his safety.  He said they called and told him that there were threats against him.

The Sheriff of course was not at the rally and was relying on at best second-hand information.  He did say it was more than one person who told him this.  But as I walked with the entire procession, I told him that no one was chanting anything of that sort.

He responded that he didn’t say they had chanted it.

At best then it was some isolated individual who might have said something.  But as Jim Smith reported, the march was peaceful.  As another person who I asked reminded me, Al Rojas, one of the organizers asked people to invoke the spirit of Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez before the procession.

While I respect the work that the Sheriff does and respect the fact that he is in a tough position, I just do not see what was gained by making this claim.

Overall, he was somewhat defensive about the entire incident arguing that his deputies had acted appropriately, said that he believes they will be exonerated, that he believes the investigation by Woodland PD will show that they acted appropriately, but he was also welcoming of a third party investigation by the Attorney General’s Office at the conclusion of Woodland PD’s investigation.

One comment however that struck me as wrongheaded was his claim that the protest was largely carried out by outside agitators rather than Woodland residents.

First, I’m not sure what it matters, there are certainly people from around the region whether they be in Davis, West Sacramento, Winters, or Sacramento who are concerned about what happened.  I do not happen to see a problem with that.

However, I was at the march, he was not.  The vast majority of people who were at this march were local Woodland residents.  Average citizens that you would not expect to see at a political rally.  They came because they want answers and are frustrated at the response from authorities.  They were quiet and respectful, but they were there.

I do not see what is gained by dismissing the protest.  Certainly the Sheriff has heard enough from the people of Woodland, but I will also remind him, he is not the Sheriff of Woodland.  He is the Sheriff of Yolo County and as such, it is for all of us to be concerned.

I still have a lot of questions that have not been answered about this incident.

First, what was Mr. Gutierrez doing that he caused him to be approached by law enforcement to begin with?  The affidavit does not answer that question.

Second, at what point did the officers identify themselves as being law enforcement?  If these individuals were dressed up to look like gang members, it would only be natural for the individual to attempt to flee.  In what way did they identify themselves as law enforcement as well?  After all, if he thought gang members were chasing him, it might be natural not to believe them if they merely said they were law enforcement.  I do not know what happened and it really does not spell it out in the affidavit.

Third, at what point did he wield his knife and did he do it because he was attacking law enforcement or because he thought he was defending himself against three gang members?

Fourth, was shooting him the only recourse.  The affidavit suggested that he had attacked them and in the course of attacking them they shot him.  Did this in fact happen that way?

Fifth, he was supposedly loaded on meth, and yet he had gone to the DMV to obtain his driver’s license, was lucid enough to pass the driving test, and while walking home suddenly got out of control.  I’m not saying that is impossible, but it is at least something that gives one serious concern and pause.

These are all questions that lead the average citizen to question the incident.

We will be talking about this incident on Vanguard Radio.  So far, I have lined up Al Rojas as a guest from Wednesday at 6 pm on KDRT 95.7 FM.  I am also trying to get someone from the ACLU and maybe another citizen from Woodland to speak.  There are lots of questions that need answers.

I think Sheriff Prieto while well-intentioned in terms of defending his deputies probably would have been better off not making statements when he did not personally witness the march.  From what I can tell, I have talked to well over 20 people, no one remembers hearing any threats to the Sheriff.

—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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24 thoughts on “No One Recalls Hearing Threats Against Sheriff Prieto Saturday Night”

  1. Anon

    It sounds to me as if the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office needs to rethink its policies in regard to doing undercover work. An incident similar to this happened in New York. An African American who did not speak English was stopped by an undercover Narc Squad. As the African American reached for his cell phone, the Narc Squad shot the poor African American guy 37 times. The Narc Squad was eventually disbanded, branded as out of control.

    The reason I mention this is bc I find it very troubling that an undercover gand squad would stop a private citizen who was doing nothing wrong. How could the person stopped possibly know he/she was being stopped by police? The undercover squad is not in uniform, came out of nowhere, and identified themselves as police officers. Wouldn’t the average person believe he was being accosted/mugged by street thugs? It would be a reasonable belief, even if badges were shown. Badges can be purchased through any mail order catalogue.

    Without casting stones, I really think Sheriff Prieto needs to rethink what an undercover squad is allowed to do. Randomly stopping citizens, who do not appear to be in the process of committing a serious crime would seem not within the purview of undercover law enforcement. Call for uniformed police to do this sort of task. But then I believe the standard for stopping a citizen is “articulable suspicion” of criminal acitivity. Was there even “articulable suspecion” here? Unfortunately the victim is dead, and can tell no tales, so we only have law enforcement’s word for what happened.

    Frankly, with the rash of police killings lately, Woodland is beginning to look a lot like the Wild West. Is that the image Woodland wants to portray? The mayor needs to do some damage control here, instead of putting his head in the sand and pretending nothing untoward is going on. The perception in the Latino community is that the white establishment is out to get them. I have heard this repeatedly.

  2. Mike Harrington

    To Anon:

    “It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if the victim was shot up with meth by the officers to cover their actions.”

    I think your comments are offensive. I have never heard of Yolo Sheriffs Officers doing such a heinous crime, and unless you have evidence of them conducting themselves like you charge, then you should retract your statement and apologize.

  3. Greg Kuperberg

    On at least one crucial point, there is no more middle ground where you could merely call this or that office “biased”. The Yolo County Coroner released Gutierrez’ autopsy report ([url]http://www.sacbee.com/links/story/1882007.html[/url]). The report says that Gutierrez had 420ng/mL of meth in his blood, plus 20ng/mL of meth metabolized to amphetamine, according to forensic lab results from Pennsylvania.

    Either Gutierrez really was high on meth, or you would have to argue against the lab report with a theory such as accidentally switching samples or even evidence tampering. (And since “Anon” suggested this scenario, it’s hard to produce plausible lab results by injecting someone whose heart has stopped.)

    Of course the investigators should think about when Gutierrez might have taken this meth. It seems a little narrow to suppose that he was loaded on meth when he took his driver’s license test. Even if he had walked straight home, it takes 10-15 minutes to get to the Gum bridge from the Woodland DMV. It could have been as simple as that he decided to party with meth after taking the test. Obviously it’s important to know when Gutierrez left the DMV.

    The autopsy report does have some evidence against the “gang” picture of Gutierrez. Yes, Gutierrez had tattoos, but these were the name Gutierrez on his forearm, the name Irma on his chest, and a few dots on his hands. I don’t see that these are necessarily gang tattoos. If Gutierrez had 420ng/mL of meth in his blood, then that is a much more serious business than his tattoos.

    Because of this toxicology report, and for several other reasons, I do not see how there could be a useful independent investigation before the Woodland police finish their investigation. Maybe there should be an independent investigation, but it would have to come later. They would have to see how the current investigation unfolds. It isn’t as simple as replacing the wrong investigators with the right investigators. The Woodland police department is required to do this job. Any independent investigation should assess their work along with the case itself.

    Yes, there have been some aggressive or even defensive press releases from the Yolo County Sheriff’s office. But I have not seen any such press releases from the Woodland Police Department or from the DA, Jeff Reisig. So it seems too early to criticize the Woodland PD or Reisig. It muddies the water to say that their work is bad before you even see their work.

    In all, it seems too early to wind people up with demands for justice. It amounts to pressure to rush the current investigation, and does not allow that a new investigation would take a long time. Yes, it’s fine for someone like Al Rojas to be concerned, but it also seems like he’s a hammer who sees every problem as a nail.

  4. Seeking Independent Investigation

    [quote]Either Gutierrez really was high on meth, or you would have to argue against the lab report with a theory such as accidentally switching samples or even evidence tampering.[/quote]

    The question in my mind is not whether or not he was on drugs, it’s whether the drugs caused him to act irrationally. Towards that point is the fact that he was somehow able to go to the DMV, take a driving test, and pass. So was he truly out of his mind as the Sheriff’s office claim or not?

    Beyond the drug remains the question of how and why the contact occurred. Did Gutierrez know he was approached by police officers or did have a reasonable belief that he might been chased by gang members?

    That matters as well.

  5. alphonso

    That sort of unsubstantiated comment (not heard by others at the event) just raises questions about the honesty of the Sheriff and the investigation going on. The Sheriff should have considered the implication of his comment before he made it and now he needs to prove it – just one name and verified corroboration of the comment is all that it needed to sweep this issue aside.

    Sheriff is up to bat.

  6. Mono

    I firmly believe that it is our responsiblity as citizens to support, and respect our law enforcement officers. They sacrifice their own well being in the effort to protect people; however, I believe it is equally our responsiblity to hold their actions accountable, especially to an elected official, and that official’s staff.

    It is our responsiblity as citizens, and as human beings to question actions and behavior by our law enforcement whenever it is obviously reprehencible.

    Hypothetical arguments are never sound, but comparably valid claims can result from them; having said that, would the same outcome had resulted from this tragic incident if Luis Gutierrez was not a young Latino man, in a lower middle class neighbor hood, dressed and fashioned in cloths deemed to be “gang related”?

    Had Luis Gutierrez been more assimilated to more of a traditional Anglo, and “normal” clothes would he had been profiled the same? Having been convicted guilty by association; and his sentence carried out mortally punishing Luis Gutierrez in this manner creates valid questions that must be answered, and never forgotten.

  7. Greg Kuperberg

    I agree that it all matters. When did Gutierrez leave the DMV, when did he use meth, and how well did he hold his meth? These are all good questions.

    But it has progressed past useful activism to launch a barrage of questions. Investigators shouldn’t answer questions ahead of time. The Woodland PD needs to release a report and let the report speak for itself. A trustworthy independent investigator would do the same thing. And arguably the sheriff’s office has made a mistake by answering too many questions too early.

  8. Seeking Independent Investigation

    Greg: I agree, these are questions we want answers to, we do not need them before the end of the report. However, one of the key things I and others will be looking at is how well and credibly a report addresses these questions.

  9. Greg Kuperberg

    Without second-guessing what the investigation will say or should say, we can at least interpret the toxicology report. According to this reference page ([url]http://www.sdrl.com/druglist/methamphetamine.html[/url]), one 12.5 milligram oral tablet of meth leads to a 30 ng/mL blood concentration after one hour, and 20 ng/mL after two and a half hours. I suppose that this is a prescription tablet with a brand name such as Desoxyn — although that also comes in smaller doses such as 5 mg. And I suppose that this is in an average adult? If so, to reach a blood concentration of 420 ng/mL, an average adult would need to swallow 190 milligrams, or inhale a somewhat smaller amount. It seems like a sizable dose.

    Or to quote the Pennsylvania lab, “Blood levels of 200-600 ng/mL have been reported in methamphetamine abusers who exhibited violent and irrational behavior.”

    I am not sure how a typical adult would do on a written DMV test after swallowing 190 milligrams of meth. I would not recommend driving a car in that condition, although this is not what Gutierrez did. And again, it’s not clear whether the meth was before or after the driver’s test.

  10. Greg Kuperberg

    I may have been wrong in thinking that Gutierrez’ tattoos do not indicate a gang affiliation. In order to obtain a warrant to search Gutierrez’ trailer, the Woodland Police had to make a probable cause argument. The Seacramento Bee obtained and posted this legal filing ([url]http://media.sacbee.com/smedia/2009/05/20/23/Court001.source.prod_affiliate.4.pdf[/url]) under a public records act. As I said, I have not seen any press releases from the Woodland PD, as there probably shouldn’t be at this time. But they do have to submit information to obtain warrants and reporters may well be able to obtain that information.

    The filing claims that the dots on Gutierrez’ hands represent the number 13, and that this type of tattoo is a Sureno gang symbol. Still, it’s not clear whether the three policemen who stopped Gutierrez and shot him noticed this tattoo or made any sense of it.

  11. Wake Up!

    To Mike Harrington:

    “I think your comments are offensive. I have never heard of Yolo Sheriffs Officers doing such a heinous crime, and unless you have evidence of them conducting themselves like you charge, then you should retract your statement and apologize. “

    Of course you woudln’t hear about something like this, it’s called ‘cover up’ for a reason. And I pity you for believing that our law system is free of corruption. They are very well capable of injencting meth on his system. And we might not have eveidence right now, but we probably will. That’s why we’ll need an independent investigation. I doubt that the one they’re going to realease is trust worthy. So my friends wake up, there are corrupt officials. Oh yes.

  12. Anom

    I for one have never fully trusted Sheriff Ed Prieto. I know he had very questional dealings with the California Highway Patrol when he was the commander of the Chico area office. One example, was not showing up for work for 1 to 2 week periods while gladly still his full time paycheck. This is just not right! If he is going to accept full time pay from the state of California, then he certainly needs to report to to work at his assigned office everyday (Monday-Friday). He was even assigned an unmarked state car with a state gasoline credit card to go along with it for this communite between Chico and Davis where he lived (and continues to reside). This was total abuse of the so called ‘system’. This, coupled with some other factors has been another contributing factor as to why the state of California is in the financial mess we see today. It appears that he is ‘double dipping’ financially since he has been collecting a very rich retirement from the California Public Retirement System (CalPERS) and now from the coffers of the county of Yolo. As for a threat being made against him, I highly doubt it was made by anyone. Unless he heard the threat first hand it should have never been mentioned. Here say statements just fans the flames, the story becomes more exaggerated each time it is told and this certainly is not a good thing for the Woodland community as a whole and the good citizens of Yolo county. I am opposed to having the Woodland Police Department having ANY PART in the investigation concerning the death of the young man in question. That is the equivilent of having the fox guarding the chick coop. This matter needs the full investigative authority of the Federal Bureau of Investingation (FBI). Only then will we possibly get to the truth. I urge my fellow Yolo county citizens to insist on bringing the FBI into the picture. If you want my sincerest opinion, this whole tragic event ‘stinks’ from the beginning. The police officer’s of today are all to quick to use there lethal force firearms against the citizens as exhibited in a very recent case by the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer who allegedly murdered the young man standing on the loading platform and then placed face down on the ground by police now posing no danger to anyone. At this point he was shot in the back by one of the BART officer who has now been charged with murder. And don’t forget, 6 other Oakland Police officers were on that scene just standing around while all this was happening. . If a knife was actually seen, while didn’t the police officer(s) use one of the other devices at there disposal such as mace spray or the non-lethal taser stun gun. These are all questions that need to be asked, investigated and truthfully answered.

  13. Anom

    One last thing on the comment I posted directly above this one. After the true facts are determined, I hope the District Attorney, the Judge in the case and the Yolo County Grand Jury will find sufficent evidence (and I think they will) to indite the involved officer on at least one count of homicide in the first-degree and then let 12 jures from the community listen to the evidence and determine the fate of the officer. If what I believe happened the day of the killing, I hope the sheriff deputy is confined for life in a state prison if he is not sent to death roll to await execution. This sort of out of control action by police officers everywhere has to come to an end. The sooner the better! Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and comments on this post.

  14. Matt Rexroad

    The comment by Anon 4:56 is crazy. I wish I would not have taken then time to read that post.

    That sort of stuff does not belong in this discussion.

    Matt Rexroad

  15. hmmmmm...

    Matt… “Anon” wrote “Anom” as moniker… content, grammar, spelling indicates strong chance of elevated BAC… more to be pitied than censured…

  16. Anom

    Mr. Rexroad: I’m very sorry to read that you think my post to the VanGuard is ‘crazy’ as you put it. But I understand since I am a very rational individual. As an elected official in Yolo County I realize that you and possibly the other local government officials are shaking in there boots over this matter. Afterall, the local governments of Woodland and the County of Yolo potentially stand to loose millions of dollars in a settlement should the family of the deceased prevail in court. I believe they have retained a very competent and aggressive legal team. Time will tell. In the meantime, perhaps you should see your primary care physician and ask him/her for a prescription of Valium 10mg with 12 refills. I hope you have a nice day!

  17. Ryan Kelly

    This whole thing is very tragic. Prieto’s off-hand remarks to the media keep getting him in trouble. This is unprofessional and contributes to community unrest and distrust. His statements regarding the appropriateness of his deputies handling in this case were premature and this too contributes to community distrust in his ability to hold this elected office and oversee the department. I believe he made this same mistake in the Courthouse lock out incident. He was quick to defend his officers, but in the end it was found that they erred in the performance of their duties. We all knew this and Prieto’s statements to the media just made him look silly. A better response would be something along the lines of an intention for a department review of tactics used by the Gang Task Force, more oversight of their day to day operations and a willingness to meet with community members to address their concerns.

  18. Robin W

    I’m very disappointed to see an elected official refer to the writer of a comment as being crazy. Whether you agree with the writer or not, it would be nice to think that our elected officials are at least open to hearing the opinions of their constituents.

  19. Anonymous

    1. Injecting meth after death would not circulate the meth through the body’s ciruclatory system, bc the heart has stopped. Thus the evidence of meth in the victim’s system is either accurate, or samples were switched/evidence tampered with.
    2. The FBI is not a pillar of integrity either. They have their own in-house ethical problems. It is on record FBI agents put an innocent father of four in prison, to protect a murderous informant.
    3. Public officials should not be afraid of citizens expressing opinions, even when contrary to what the public officials feel is “reasonable”.

  20. Ryan Kelly

    I don’t believe the elected official is afraid of people expressing their opinion and the idea of police injecting meth into a dead body IS a far fetched.

    However, there have been complaints that the march was organized by “out of towners” who have no right to come to Woodland to stir up the pot. I wonder if there was this same thought in Selma, Alabama when Martin Luther King, Jr. arrived to march with local people. Imagine if this thought became the issue instead of listening to what the people who were marching were trying to convey.

  21. Greg Kuperberg

    [i]Public officials should not be afraid of citizens expressing opinions, even when contrary to what the public officials feel is “reasonable”.[/i]

    Matt Rexroad did not say that he was afraid of the comment in question, he said that the comment was crazy and inappropriate. And he’s simply right. It is crazy and inappropriate to declare that a county employee who hasn’t yet been charged with a crime should be executed.

    Arguably, it is still protected speech if we can dismiss it as unserious talk, even though it is in poor taste. But it also means that the “Terms of Usage” agreement of this blog is not serious either, or maybe that it only matters for people who put their real names. There have been a lot of wild accusations and suggestions in the anonymous comments.

    [i]However, there have been complaints that the march was organized by “out of towners” who have no right to come to Woodland to stir up the pot.[/i]

    I did not see the interview in question, but at least as quoted here, Prieto also did not say that Al Rojas or whoever has no right to come to Woodland. He may have meant that he shouldn’t do it even if it is his right; or that without saying “shouldn’t”, the protest can be disregarded.

    I don’t particularly agree with Prieto on that point. Where Al Rojas is from is really not the issue, if he is right. He could live in Tajikistan for all I care.

    [i]I wonder if there was this same thought in Selma, Alabama when Martin Luther King, Jr. arrived to march with local people.[/i]

    There is no need to wonder. They very much did see these protests as stirred up by outsider agitators, especially agitators from outside of the South.

    But the question is, if you wear the mantle of a hero of the past, are you wearing it properly? Is Al Rojas doing like Martin Luther King, or is he doing like Al Sharpton? Maybe today’s interview will shed light on that.

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