Not everyone was appreciative of the panel’s efforts however, as both Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig and Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto dismissed the panel as politically motivated and lacking credibility. However, as far as we can tell, neither attended nor had any of their deputies attend the weekend’s testimony.
Mr. Cabrera observed Gutierrez looking “surprised and somewhat scared.” He told the panel he was walking normally and that he did not look like a gang member.
Mr. Cabrera saw Gutierrez immediately before witness Diana Navarro saw him. Navarro testified on Saturday that she saw Mr. Gutierrez exchange punches with the officer, that she saw no knife and no weapons in his hands which she saw clearly, and that he was retreating in a jogging motion as he was shot by deputies.
The second witness was Rosalia Redones who was an insurance broker who met the victim the day of the death. At 12:29 the application came in, the victim signed everything. He did everything normal in paying for coverage for 3 months in advance. He spent about 15 to 20 minutes her.
The victim was lucid, and the witness saw nothing strange. The witness described the fact that two of her brothers had died from drugs and alcohol and she had witnessed them under the influence, but said that the victim (Gutierrez) showed no signs of being on drugs. The victim did not have sniffles, shaking, slurred speech, or any other indications of drug use. She also mentioned he spoke broken English.
The rest of the testimony on Sunday was delivered by the Private Investigator Frank Roman, who apparently began work on this case as soon as three weeks following the incident.
Mr. Roman questioned multiple aspects of the official report.
First, he described that the trajectory of one of the bullets that the police fired which landed in a nearby mobile home in the daughter’s bedroom of that resident. The police made no effort to retrieve it. They looked up in the ceiling where the bullet lodged and said that they would never find the bullet.
Mr. Roman in his investigation went back and looked inside the home, was shown where the bullet hole was, took multiple photos, and then cut into the ceiling in three sections before finding the pristine hollow point bullet in the drywall. He took it to the police for crime scene analysis. It was not mentioned in the report which read: “An expended bullet was later recovered from a residence in a mobile home park northeast of the scene. The location and trajectory of that bullet were consistent with the shooting scene.” That report did not note that the bullet was not recovered by the police.
Overall, he noted that the police never identified which of the deputies in their report fired the fatal shot that killed Gutierrez, something that should have been easily determined through ballistic evidence.
Mr. Roman then poked holes in Sgt. Dale Johnson’s account of the incident.
“Navarro looked at Sgt. Johnson, looked down toward Sgt. Johnson’s badge and gun, and immediately took off running eastbound on East Gum Avenue. Navarro immediately put his right hand in his right front pants pocket. Sgt. Johnson stated that he thought that Navarro might be reaching for narcotics. As Navarro was running, he kept his hand in his pocket.
As he ran eastbound, Navarro crossed to the south side of East Gum Avenue. Sgt. Johnson had his gun in his hand as he chased after Navarro. Sgt. Johnson identified himself as a law enforcement officer about 15 times. Sgt. Johnson decided to physically grab Navarro, so he re-holstered his gun. When Sgt. Johnson got close enough to grab him, Navarro was able to duck away from Sgt. Johnson’s grasp, causing Sgt. Johnson to miss him. Navarro then pulled a knife out of his pocket and made a slashing motion at Sgt. Johnson. Sgt. Johnson evaded the assault by quickly moving back away from Navarro. Sgt. Johnson described his maneuver as “trying to make myself into a C or reverse C type of thing.” After he jumped back, he saw the knife, which was a folding type knife, not a buck knife.”
First, Mr. Roman questioned the fact that Sgt. Johnson would think that Navarro would reach into his pant pockets during a pursuit and try to reach for narcotics. Mr. Roman is a former police officer and said his first thought would be that he was reaching for a weapon, not narcotics.
Next, Mr. Roman ascertained that the pursuit took place within about a 100 foot space and he questioned whether an officer could yell that many times (15) while in pursuit. He said he could only get it out about six times and it got really garbled at the end.
Moreover, Oviedo described himself as yelling “S.O. and/or Sheriff’s Department. Stop,” five times. Mr. Roman questioned that as well, asking first which it was and then wondering whether anyone would know what “S.O.” meant, particularly an individual who spoke broken English.
The deputies described Mr. Gutierrez as running with his hands in pant pockets. Mr. Roman questioned whether one could run with hands in his pant pocket. Moreover, one of the witnesses directly contradicts that statement, arguing that he ran in a jogging motions with his hands waving.
But the biggest question had to do with the knife.
Above, Sgt. Johnson describes him pulling the knife out of his pocket and making a slashing motion. Likewise Deputy Oviedo described the following:
“Navarro was removing and returning his hand to his pocket as he ran. Deputy Oviedo saw Navarro reach into his right pocket and remove a knife. He could see the three-or four-inch blade. Navarro lunged at Sgt. Johnson as if to stab him…”
As Mr. Roman pointed out, which was it a slashing motion as Johnson described or a stabbing motion as Oviedo described. He said they were two very distinct motions and demonstrated the difference.
But moreover, his knife was a folding knife and neither officer described him opening the knife. Mr. Roman spent time showing that he could not be running with an open knife in his pocket and also showed that he could not have opened in his pocket with just one hand. That would seem to be a huge question.
He further said, they will need expert testimony, but he questioned whether a person shot in the jugular with the exit wound in the head could throw the knife after being shot.
He described eye witness account from Sheryl Perry from the DMV who renewed his driver’s license. She described him as speaking broken-English but polite. They blew up the photograph taken at the DMV and his pupils did not look dilated and he did not appear to be on drugs. All witness accounts from that morning suggested that he was acting normal and that no one sensed anything that was wrong.
He said they will need experts to discuss the impact of the quantity of drugs used on his behavior, but he questioned that someone could use that much meth and yet sit calmly in an office for 15 to 20 minutes.
The final portion of his testimony focused on the witness Rudulfo Flores.
Here was the official account:
On June 1, 2009, Yolo Sheriff’s Office Deputy J. Lazaro contacted Flores at Woodland Memorial Hospital. At that time, Flores was in the custody of the Yolo County Sheriff. Flores told Lazaro the person who died was known as “Indian Gutierrez” because he was a good knife thrower. 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.
On June 2, Woodland Police Department Detective Ron Cordova reinterviewed Flores. Flores advised he knew Gutierrez (Navarro) as a Sureño because since he (Flores) associates with Sureños. Gutierrez always carried a knife and was good with it. Gutierrez’s nickname was “Indio” because he was good with a knife. Flores knew Gutierrez used controlled substances and was considered dangerous.
Mr. Flores was important to the official account because he was the only witness that identified Gutierrez as a gang member. Like us, Mr. Roman had serious questions about Mr. Flores’ testimony. The dangerous knife thrower who the police were lucky that he did not kill had 15 contacts contacts with the police, all were traffic stops. There was no evidence of gang activity, no evidence of a criminal record, no conflicts or confrontations with the police, and no evidence he was even under the influence of narcotics.
Mr. Roman looked at Mr. Flores’ record and found that he had a long history of small crimes, mostly for possession of drugs including the most recent crime for a possession of heroin. Shortly after the Gutierrez case, that possession of heroin charge was not filed by the District Attorney’s office, a DA’s office that files on almost every charge. Plus a good amount of the record was sealed in this case and inaccessible. This led him to wonder if Mr. Flores cut a deal in exchange for his account that identified Mr. Gutierrez as a gang member.
While none of this testimony constitutes proof of anything, it does raise a lot of red flags and questions about the official. The hope expressed by Mr. Roman was that the panel would follow up on some of these questions and bring forth experts. It is likely that the deputies would not testify, but short of that, they hope to produce a report of the incident and present it to officials in hopes that officials will follow up on their findings.
Reaction from Reisig and Prieto along with Commentary
Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig told the Sacramento Bee Sunday that the “panel was politically motivated and lacked credibility.”
He said in an e-mail:
“It is clear that their process is driven by deep personal and political agendas. The fact that basic rules of evidence are not being followed – such as ignoring rules against hearsay, allowing factually unsupported and rampant speculation and failing to even secure an oath under penalty of perjury – sheds light on the illegitimacy of the project.”
My response to that is really a so what if that charge is true, and I am not sure that it is true. Most of the testimony from the eyewitnesses were in fact direct testimony about what they observed. And furthermore, they stated that they would say similar things if called before an actual judicial body, of which this is not.
Moreover, he completely dismisses potential valid questions that were raised both days about what happened. We can go down the list starting with Ms. Navarro’s testimony where she references a punch, which was never reported in the report, and she also says she never saw a knife. We can go down the list of the questions that Roman raises about the knife, about the account of the officers, about the bullet that he retrieved, about the witnesses who spoke of Gutierrez’s behavior, about the questionable account of Mr. Flores. None of these statements alone are direct evidence that would be admissible in a court of law, but all are legitimate points that you cannot dismiss due to motivation. There are quite simply many holes in Mr. Reisig’s department’s report that should be followed up on.
Sheriff Ed Prieto had a similar reaction, but look at what else he says. He told the Bee on Sunday:
“It is clear that (the panel’s) process is driven by deep personal and political agendas.”
However he also said,
“He had not heard of the incident before, but that his office would initiate an investigation based on the [Ochoa] family’s testimony.”
So on the one hand, the panel’s process is questionable, but on the other hand, he thought enough of the testimony that he would follow up on it. Seems like ther’s a bit of a contradiction.
The one thing that I really do not understand in this is what is the political agenda here? Neither Prieto nor Reisig have opposition to their re-election campaigns in June, so what is the political agenda?
To me, my agenda is to find out what really happened because I did not believe the official report that was released in November and Mr. Roman and the other witnesses gave me more questions about it rather than less.
—David M. Greenwald reporting