Pressure Mounts for Independent Investigation

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Some Officials Starting to Buckle Under the Pressure –

On Tuesday, about a dozen organizers called a press conference to push for the independent investigation into the April 30 death of Luis Gutierrez who was shot by Sheriff’s deputies who claim that he attacked them with a knife.

Following the press conference, individuals filed in the County of Board of Supervisors to press their case before that body.  The supervisors resisted calling for an investigation at this time however, opting instead to let the current investigation run its course.  District Attorney Jeff Reisig has said that he will forward the results to the California Attorney General’s office for review.

Meanwhile Robyn Drivon the county counsel, asked by the Board for options indicated during the Tuesday meeting that FBI civil rights units and the Attorney General were ready to assist the county if so requested.

“At this time, the Attorney General’s Office feels that the Woodland Police Department is adequately undertaking this investigation, however, they stand ready to participate in the review of the investigation.”

Al Rojas, addressing the newsconference on Tuesday morning said:

“Many people have said this is a Woodland issue, that’s not necessarily true.  This is an issue that concerns us all as human rights concerns that we all have and this is one issues that effects everyone in this county…  Today we’re hear to demand the answer to the question that most people in this county are asking, the question is why–why did Luis Gutierrez get killed and what is happening?”

He then went on to “demand” that the Board of Supervisors take a position that would call for an independent investigation into the death of Mr. Gutierrez.  He would later call for the county dropping gang-suppression efforts until this case is resolved, a call that was shrugged off by Sheriff Prieto on Tuesday.

The Sheriff has apparently become frustrated by what he calls “false accusations.”

He told KCRA Channel 3 in Sacramento Tuesday:

“In all honesty, I’m not overly concerned about statements made against me, but I do get concerned about false accusations against the officers involved.  Just because certain individuals want us to refrain from dealing with gangs in Woodland, West Sacramento, and throughout Yolo County, is not something I’m going to respond to.”

Mr. Prieto went on to argue that he is waiting for answers to come out:

“So it doesn’t really matter who does the investigation.  Facts are facts, and the truth will prevail.”

I have to respectfully disagree with the Sheriff there–there is a reason why one generally asks an independent third party to review a case and there is a reason why his own department is not doing the investigation.

Mr. Prieto is not the only one frustrated or the only one who is saying things that are probably better left unspoken.  Speaking for the first time on Tuesday, Woodland Police Chief Carey Sullivan spoke out for the first time calling “hypocritical” statements from those calling for an independent investigation.

His statement, reported in the Woodland Daily Democrat, came at the Woodland City Council meeting:

“The men and women in the Woodland Police Department have been working many long and hard hours to complete this investigation. They have been collecting evidence and doing so objectively and fairly…  We have not engaged in a public this discussion of this issue in order not to taint this investigation. The integrity of this investigation is of utmost importance to us.

“I would like to say that it angers me when a person insults the integrity of this organization and this community by on one hand calling for a fair and objective investigation and on the other hand calling the Woodland Police Department complicit with the Sheriff’s Department…  This is totally hypocritical statement. These officers are upholding the law and are dedicated to protecting the citizens of the city of Woodland, and they work long and hard at doing so.”

Um, I don’t think the Police Chief wanted to use the word hypocritical.  There is nothing hypocritical about Mr. Rojas and others calling for an independent investigation.  I understand that the Police Chief would take exception to the implications that the Woodland Police Department being complicit with the Sheriff’s Department.  I also think however, the Police Chief needs to understand that for the most part these are not personal criticisms of his department, but rather concerns about the perception that law enforcement may not be able to adequately investigate the actions of other law enforcement agencies.  There is a reason why independent investigations are generally the rule in such things and they have as much to do with the perception and the need for distance. 

In short, the Police Chief needs to chill out and continue to do his job rather than make such inflammatory comments and using words that clearly are used out of context without the proper meaning associated with them.  When the Police Chief calls something “hypocritical,” it shows he has lost his cool and perspective on this issue.  Maybe it really is time for him to recuse his department from this investigation.

Will Lotter, a longtime Davis resident made the comment at the Board of Supervisors meeting that probably best sums up the position of many calling for an independent investigation.

Reported in the Woodland Daily Democrat:

Lotter said he was disappointed supervisors didn’t call for an outside agency.

“I’m not saying that the Woodland Police Department might not come up with an accurate investigation report, but it would confirm whatever they put up with an outside agency — and if there’s a difference then it has to be investigated,” he said, adding that there is a lot of public concern about the case.

Those words are how the Woodland Police Department ought to views these calls for independent investigation.  It is not that people do not trust them, it is that they want to have complete confidence in the results and have no possibility of questions that the matter was investigated impartially and thoroughly.  Until that happens, these calls are likely to only get louder.

If the Police Chief is getting irritated now, wait until the results come out.  The Vanguard respectfully suggests that the Police Chief get some perspective on this very quickly or things will get far worse.

—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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13 thoughts on “Pressure Mounts for Independent Investigation”

  1. My View

    The Woodland Police are law enforcement officers. Law enforcement protects its own. Secondly, the Woodland Police Dept just killed a man, by piling on him after a tasing, so somehow I doubt their objectivity as to whether there was “overkill” by the Yolo Sheriff’s Dept. An independent review has to happen. There are police procedures involved here, that are highly questionable, that are killing innocent private citizens who have probably done nothing wrong.

    I am all for policing gangs, but not for killing gang members on sight. I find the police procedure of stopping citizens using undercover cops very troubling. How are citizens supposed to know an undercover cop is a policeman? Because he says so? Because he shows a badge than can be purchased through a mail order catalogue? Would the victim in this case have behaved diffently, if a police cruiser had pulled up, a uniformed policeman had stopped him, and asked for ID? We will never know, bc the victim is dead. The police are not playing fair when it comes to average citizens.

  2. Independent Investigation called for.....

    A thoughtful letter was published in the Davis Enterprise today:

    LETTERS: Sheriff will lead a full investigation

    Carlos G. Matos | Davis | June 18, 2009 09:19

    I am writing to state that I have confidence in Sheriff Ed Prieto’s integrity to get to the truth of the matter regarding the tragic death of Luis Guiterrez. I have known Ed Prieto for over 15 years during both his service as commander of the Highway Patrol for Yolo County and as Yolo County Sheriff.

    In my experience, Ed has always worked hard at being fair and courteous, and I believe he will see to it that this tragedy is fully and fairly investigated. Ed has worked hard to build bridges to every segment of our community and strives to be accessible and open with all people.

    I have worked for 32 years as a clinician for the Yolo County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Department. I am also a past president and current vice president of the Concilio of Yolo County. I am well aware of the distrust that many people have towards law enforcement, especially in the Latino community, due to the lack of communication and understanding as well as inappropriate profiling.

    There are many questions surrounding the death of Luis Guiterrez which must be investigated and fully answered. I support an independent investigation to review the Woodland Police Department and the district attorney’s investigation, the reason being a significant history of distrust, both past and present, held by many citizens towards our law enforcement agencies.

    Carlos G. Matos

    Davis

  3. Rich Rifkin

    I agree with Mr. Matos regarding the need for a completely independent investigation. I don’t think it is ever possible for a police agency (or sheriff’s department) to adequately investigate itself in matters like this one.

    The only aspect of this story where I part company with some who are protesting the death of Mr. Gutierrez is the suggestion that he was killed because the officers involved had an anti-Latino animus. It is possible they are right. I just think it is unlikely, given the backgrounds of the people in the task force, the make-up of the Woodland P.D. and the Yolo County Sheriffs and Sheriff Prieto.

    Yet even if there was no racial/ethnic bias involved in this case, it is possible that this shooting was not justified. I think the only way we will know (short of a trial) is a thoroughly independent investigation run by the state AG. It seems to me that, as well-intentioned and decent as Mr. Prieto and his people are, they have an inherent bias which, even if they reach the correct conclusion, will be hard for all of the public to accept.

  4. Concerned Citizen

    Rich:

    I don’t think they have an anti-Latino animus, I think they saw a young Latino male and saw gang member. I think that’s less animus than profiling.

    I agree with much of the rest of what you have to say.

  5. Independent Investigation is needed

    It is well documented that many in law enforcement do not like public review or oversight of their work. Many in law enforcement have contempt for anyone who might question their actions. They do not take criticism or questioning well even from elected officials, community leaders, let alone ordinary citizens. Law enforcement rarely if ever will acknowledge making a mistake, even small ones. If citizens dare question a police action or an internal police investigation many in law enforcement become almost “pavlovian” in their response: “do not question our work or the manner in which we choose to do it.”

  6. Porque? Why?

    The law enforcement profession is not exempt from making bad decisions in the field or at headquarters. And their decisions can cause death. An independent investigation is required for the truth to come out and be believed.

    The community is rightfully asking: “Porque? Why?

    ·Why did the sheriff’s deputies approach this Mr. Guiterrez?
    ·Had Mr. Guiterrez done anything wrong to cause them to approach him?
    ·Since the deputies were in street cloths and as members of the gang task force dressed to look like gang members, did they properly and convincingly identify themselves as law enforcement officers to Mr. Guiterrez? Flashing a badge or stating they are sheriff deputies when they probably looked like thugs doesn’t cut it when we are dealing with a resulting death.
    ·Did the deputies so convincingly look like gang members that they scared Mr. Guiterrez (who was a law abiding person) into running from them and turning on them with a knife to defend himself? I say defend, because they approached him, he did not approach them.
    ·Again what behavior or actions by Mr. Guiterrez would cause these deputies to justify approaching him in the first place?
    ·Why did this horrible incident and death occur?

    From what the sheriff’s department has already said this appears to be to me a needless and unnecessary death, probably due to incompetence and misconduct by the sheriff deputies involved. An independent investigation by an outside Yolo County agency is warranted and without one it will not be seen as credible especially in light of the recent comments from the Woodland police chief and the Yolo sheriff.

  7. José Escritor

    [quote]The community is rightfully asking: “Porque? Why?” [/quote]Actually, the community is incorrectly asking: “Porque? Why?”

    In correct Spanish, [i]porque[/i] (one word without an accent mark) means [i]because[/i]. It does not mean [i]why.[/i] To write why (as a question) in Spanish, it is two words and requires an accent mark over the é and question marks before and after the query: ¿Por qué?

  8. John D.

    Oh my goodness. A Spanish lesson in the middle of such serious contemplation. Someone’s missed the point. Take note of the several presumably Spanish speaking men holding signs with question marks only after the Spanish words/questions and a one word version of “Porque”. You must expect commentors are going to repeat what is written by those that are making the statements.

  9. earoberts

    Just to add context, my Spanish is non-existent. Can’t you tell? My apologies to everyone for having misunderstood the “porque” reference!

  10. Independent Review called for....

    The following excerpts from a letter to the editor was published in today’s Woodland Daily Democrat:

    Fairness for all is necessary in Woodland

    By JESSE ORTIZ
    Created: 06/19/2009 02:30:53 AM PDT

    …..First, and foremost I would like to share my deepest condolence to the Gutierrez family.

    …..Over the last few years the U.S. Department of Justice, FBI, U.S. Congress, President Bush, and then Attorney General John Ashcroft have come out with comments regarding their concern of racial profiling, in particular how it relates to African Americans. In June 2003 the U.S. Department of Justice published a fact sheet relating to this issue;….

    I would be less than honest to say that I believe racial profiling does not exist today. How much and to what extent in each community is an inconclusive answer.

    ….In any profession today, including education and law enforcement you will find good and bad attitudes.

    Over the last few months much has been written regarding the shooting. Assumptions, personal attacks, and exaggerations have been made, in particular about certain individuals. I have been consistent in my opinion.

    Allow the Woodland Police Department to thoroughly finish their formal investigation. Woodland Police Chief Carey Sullivan and his police force are a very competent department.

    Criticism of Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto and Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig has also been on the forefront. Much of the criticism has come from those who have not taken the time to sit at the table and understand the process involved in such a tragic death. It has been my personal experience that both Prieto and Reisig are honorable and credible individuals in performing their professional duties.

    Because of the nature of the shooting and highly emotional charges being made it is fair to ask for an “independent review” of any completed investigation turned in to the Yolo County District Attorney’s office. It is not uncommon for an agency outside the county to be involved to reaffirm the investigation or ask for clarification. This would only assist in the credibility of the investigation.

    Fair and equal Justice for the family of the deceased, police officers, agencies involved, and those concerned should be the highest priority.

    — Jesse Ortiz is a retired member of the Woodland School Board and a founding member of the Latino Community Council among many other organizations.

  11. Anonymous

    I would only add the comment that there have been too many deaths of citizens at the hands of the police lately in and around Woodland, to make me comfortable with law enforcemnt in that area doing any of the investigations. Outside independent review would seem mandatory at this point, to have any credibility.

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