If you missed it last week the Vanguard embarked on a lengthy analysis of the District Attorney’s report, concluding the findings in the report are not nearly as clearcut as the District Attorney claims. Given the circumstances involved, it seems reasonable that the shooting may have been justified, but the situation from the beginning was escalated by questionable actions by the officers involved.
As the Woodland Daily Democrat’s editorial comments this week:
In the interests of impartiality, this paper argued some months ago for an outside investigation into the April 30 shooting death of Luis Gutierrez Navarro by three gang task force Yolo County deputies.
After considerable time, that investigation really hasn’t been undertaken. Rather, the state Department of Justice reviewed the findings of the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office — which were released this past week — which found the shooting justified. As a result, criminal charges against the three officers will not be pursued.
The Daily Democrat then misses their own point and concludes that “given the circumstances provided, deputies considered themselves in imminent danger and used appropriate force against Gutierrez.” The Democrat again fails to recognize the problem when they write, “Judging from the information in the report…”
That is just the problem, we are all looking at one report, rather than the outside investigation that the Democrat asked for and now acknowledge they did not get. So is it logical for them to do as they have and basically validate the findings?
Moreover, the Democrat could have done as we did a week and a half ago, when we painstakingly went over the testimony and claims, piece by piece, point by point and discovered numerous contradictions in the statements by the officers. But moreover, the conclusion of the report often seems at odds with its own testimony from the officers.
The public deserved more than an independent agency re-reading the findings of the District Attorney’s Office and the conclusion that the District Attorney’s decision was “not unreasonable” and thus did not “constitute an abuse of discretion.”
Unfortunately we are still stuck in the same place that we were six months ago with unanswered questions. There remain questions as to whether Mr. Gutierrez was a gang member, why he was stopped when he was walking alone in the middle of the day, whether deputies identified themselves as law enforcement and he knew they were police officers, among other things.
The Democrat writes:
“One thing that seems certain is that officers stopped Gutierrerz because they had a reasonable suspicion to believe he was in a gang. We do not believe Gutierrez was stopped based solely on his ethnicity.”
Really? On what basis do they conclude that? Mr. Gutierrez was not wearing gang clothing. So what was the reasonable suspicion that he was in a gang?
We have the strange statement by Sgt. Johnson that
“Hispanic gang members will often not openly wear their gang colors. Instead, the gang member will wear generic colors to disguise their particular affiliation.”
That leads us into a logical connundrum whereby wearing gang colors signifies gang membership, but not wearing gang colors also potentially signifies gang membership. Based on that statement, every Hispanic is a potential gang member regardless of their attire.
Deputy Oviedo gives us more reason for pause when he said in his statement:
“There was nothing unusual about the person that attracted their attention.”
The strongest evidence that he might have been in a gang was a tattoo that officers admitted they hadn’t seen on his hands. However, as the report clarifies, “Deputy Bautista did not notice or see Navarro’s hands.” The other officers do not make statements that they had seen his hands either.
A gang member in custody, identified as Rudolfo Flores, said he knew Gutierrez from his association with the Sureños, a street gang. Heclaimed Mr. Gutierrez was in a gang and that he was a dangerous knife man. But this witness in fact never witnessed anything and does not seem credible. If Mr. Gutierrez was a dangerous knife man, would he not have a long criminal record? He does not. He has no real criminal record other than some driving violations. (The report reads: “The Yolo County District Attorney’s Office had three criminal cases involving Navarro. Each involves a violation of Vehicle Code Section 14601, driving without a valid license (two from 2008 and one from 2009).”) That would not seem to fit with this witnesses description of Mr. Gutierrez as a dangerous man to police officers.
“According to Flores, the deputy was lucky not to get killed because Gutierrez, who is a Sureño gang member, is a dangerous person and had said he would not let the cops take him.”
However, we know from the report, that Mr. Gutierrez had had many encounters with police, mainly in traffic stops and there is no record of him being belligerent to them.
“In the 15 verified contacts prior to April 30, 2009, there were no indications of any issues, conflicts, or confrontations between Navarro and officers. There is no record or indication of Navarro engaging in any type of resisting or assaultive behavior toward law enforcement or of Navarro being under the influence of a controlled substance.”
This history seems at odds with the testimony of Mr. Flores, a person who was in jail at the time of his interview.
So what was the reasonable suspicion to believe he was in a gang? And why was he stopped? We have testimonies from some of the officers that they kind of knew him, but no real sense for how they would have known him. None of the officers had been involved in his prior police contacts.
“Deputy Bautista thought Navarro looked familiar and might be on probation or parole. Deputy Oviedo thought Navarro looked familiar but was not sure of Navarro’s identity. Sgt. Johnson did not know Navarro.”
The Democrat argues that Gutierrez was not stopped based solely on his ethnicity, but given these statements and sets of facts, that seems a questionable conclusion at best. The officers claim that they thought they recognized Mr. Gutierrez or that he was on probation, but he was not on probation and they probably had never seen him before. Would a white person undertaking the same activity as Mr. Gutierrez have been approached? We’ll never know, but I certainly cannot rule out the fact that he probably would not have.
Obviously a consensual stop is consensual, but from our vantage point, there appears little reason for a man walking alone in the middle of the day to be approached by the deputies. There also appears to be some question as to whether Mr. Gutierrez actually knew these were Sheriff’s Deputies contacting him.
One thing that is clear, without the gang pretense, or at least with the gang pretense in serious doubt, the contact with the police officers becomes far more questionable, especially when you have conflicting stories as to whether they identified themselves to Mr. Gutierrez. This is a crucial question, because if Mr. Gutierrez does not know these are police officers, him running from them becomes much more defensible. Only Sgt. Johnson’s account clearly says he identified himself.
Witnesses gave varying statements as to whether or not they knew that these were police officers. One witness thought that they might be gang members who wanted to beat up the kid.
The issue of meth use is also inconclusive at best. The official report uses it as pretense to suggest that Mr. Gutierrez was volatile and dangerous. But was he? That we will not know and we also do not really know how the meth got into his system and for how long. We know he was apparently able to take a driving test and pass it.
The bottom line here is that we had questions before and these questions remain after the report. There needs to be a new report here, the DA’s report is flawed, filled with contradictory statements and conjecture. Too many seem willing to accept it at face value without questioning.
The Vanguard stands by its original call for an independent investigation. What the Attorney General’s Office gave us was a review of the report. That is all. And that is not sufficient. For us, this issue has not been put to rest by the DA’s report.
—David M. Greenwald reporting