Witnesses Testify on Gutierrez Case; Allege Gestapo Tactics by Gang Task Force Officers

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Testimony by Witness Undermines Official Story at the Scene of the Crime –

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Former Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso is chairing a thirteen person commission on civil rights to look into the 2009 shooting of Luis Gutierrez.  Saturday marked the first public meeting of that commission where they took testimony from four witnesses to Gutierrez’s mannerisms and activities of the day, the shooting itself, and the tactics of the officers.  In day one of testimony taken by the Yolo County Independent Civil Rights Commission a number of witnesses were called to testify.  Some of these were direct witnesses to facets of the events of the day that Luis Gutierrez was shot by three Yolo County Sheriff’s Deputies working for the Yolo County Gang Task Force. 

One of the key witnesses, described in great detail what she had seen.  She provided far more detail than what was made available by the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office in their report on the incident.  She described the incident in great detail and told the commission that she had not seen a weapon, and that Mr. Gutierrez was retreating as he was shot.

However, stealing the show was the description of a family that had nothing to do with this incident.  They described their treatment by the three Deputies in a previous incident that left their ten year old daughter shaken with post traumatic stress disorder, after deputies pulled a gun and held it to her head.

Eyewitness Testimony

Ms. Vienna Monique Navarro, no relation to Luis Gutierrez Navarro, is one of the witnesses that the report included testimony from.  However, she was able to describe the incident in far more detail.

Ms. Navarro was driving very slowly on the bridge when she saw three men and Luis Gutierrez.  At first, she thought the men were playing around and simply running from one side of the street to the other.  However, then she saw them punching and swinging their arms.  She saw Mr. Gutierrez exchange punches with one of the officers.  She described Mr. Gutierrez’s face as very red, but said there was no blood that she could see.

She was driving about 2 miles per hour very slow and Luis came within three feet of her vehicle and made eye contact with her.  He looked very scared, confused, and shocked. 

She said, “I didn’t know they were officers until one of their jackets flew open and I saw the badge.  And even then I wasn’t really sure, it didn’t click in my head that they were police officers.”

She described that he stopped and turned around.  “He was doing this backwards jog type move.  It kind of looked like he was turning to see where they were.  He turned around and I heard three gunshots as he was doing a jogging motion.”

“I heard three or four or five shots, and I was looking in my rearview mirror and I saw him fall down on his side.  When I saw that I took off down to Kate Lane.”

She would not find out that he had been killed until the next day when she looked up the story on the internet and saw the report.  She could not believe that he had been shot, since he did not have a gun.  It was only later on the internet that she learned that officers were saying that he had a knife.

She said the Chief of Police was the one who interviewed her. 

“One thing that I thought was pretty odd, was at one point he had asked me to stand up and demonstrate how Luis was running.  He said, so Luis was running like this with his hands and everything.  I said yes.  And he said, did you notice that I had this knife in my hands the whole time?  He had a pocket knife, a black one, that was in the palm of his hands.  He said, did you see this?  And I said no, I didn’t.  He said, how do you know you didn’t just miss the knife [the knife that he alleged was in Luis’ hand]?”

She pointed out that the knife that the Police Chief held was closed.  In demonstration with the private investigator, it was clear that if there had been an open knife in Luis’ hands, as the officers allege in their report, she would have seen it. 

Her description differs from the report in several key ways.

First, the report makes no mention of the punches that were exchanged by Gutierrez and the Deputies.  And yet she clearly saw punches exchanged between Gutierrez and the officers.

Second, she describes Gutierrez as jogging backwards and reports seeing no weapon in his hands.

Here is the way the report reads:

“Ms. Navarro had now passed the law enforcement vehicle heading in the opposite direction, so she continued to watch the incident out of her rear view mirror. She saw the guy the officers were chasing stop and turn around. She did not see anything in the person’s hands. The officers were about 10 feet away from the person. The person backed away from the officers, and Ms. Navarro heard four shots. Ms. Navarro then decided to leave the area. By this time, she was at the bottom of the hill. She did not see the officers’ firearms. She heard the officers yelling but could not tell what was being said. She thought the subject’s arms were swinging as he ran. She did not see him pull out a knife.”

What was not clear from this is that Ms. Navarro was driving very slowly during this time.  She had a very clear view of Gutierrez as he was within three feet of her, looked right at him, and did not see a knife in his hands.  And yet seconds later he would allegedly have an open knife and would have allegedly lunged at the police according to the report.  The interviewing officer tried to convince her that he could have had a weapon and she may not have seen it, but he held a closed knife, an open knife with a four inch blade would have been visible to her.  She never reported seeing him lunge at officers, on the contrary, she described him as running backwards with his arms swinging as a jogger’s arms would swing while jogging.

This was key testimony from one of the key eyewitnesses to the shooting that the police had used during their investigation.  Her testimony filled in some holes in the police report as it seems clear that she had a better view of the scene and incident than the official report implies.

Tactics of the Gang Task Force Scrutinized

A family testified to brutal tactics used by the same three men unit from the gang task force.  They testified that they were treated violently without just cause as they were detained by the Gang Task Force.

Santiago Ochoa and his wife and daughter described in detail an incident that occurred on April 5, 2009, less than a month before the Gutierrez shooting.  The same three Officer Johnson, Bautista, and Oviedo arrived at door looking for his son, Santiago Ochoa Jr was in there.  Permission was not given to the men to search the house.  They did it anyway.

The police showed up again on the 7th and asked them why they went into the house and took things from the house without permission.  He told the commission through his interpreter that the Officer told him, “We don’t have a search warrant, but if you’d like we can get a search warrant so that we can destroy your house, if that’s what you want.”  

They came back again, and threatened his nephew with a pistol in hand.  They threatened him  and told him that if he didn’t tell them where Junior was… But he said he could not say, because he didn’t know.

Then Sgt. Johnson told him, “When this case is over, you’re not going to be here because we’re going to send you to Mexico.”

Finally they came back on June 11 between 8:45 and 9:00 in the morning and they went into the house with a search warrant this time.  They knocked very hard, “Open up the f—ing door!”

His wife opened the door, “they grabbed her by the neck and threw her down on the floor with a pistol in [the Sheriff’s Deputy] hand.  I came behind her, they did the same thing to me.  They tried to slam me on the floor, but I didn’t want that.  So they threw me out the door.”

Then Crystal, his then nine year old daughter came behind him, “they did the same thing to her, they pointed a gun at her head and they threw her out after us.”

Mrs. Ochoa also testified.  “I said my daughter, my daughter, she came out like this and when she did, they put a pistol on her head and then threw her out as well along with me.”

She asked the female officer, “Why do they do this to our daughter and she said, ‘children kill as well.’  She began to vomit from the fright and she trembled.  I said why to our little girl, she’s little?”  Crystal was nine years old and about 75 pounds at the time of the incident.  “In English they said, change the laws if you can.”

The family described the officers intentionally destroying their property.  At one point responding to a question as to why they were tearing things apart by saying, “That’s how it should be” and then asking for a hammer.

Chrystal then in English described in vivid detail what happened to her.

“I was eating and they started hitting the door and started saying bad words.”  She said she went to go feed her turtle when her mother open the door and they grabbed her and threw her to the ground. 

“One of the polices came and they pointed a gun at my head and started taking me outside with the gun at my head.”

She was asked by Justice Reynoso to describe how far the gun was from her head.  She was asked to show the commission with the use of her fingers; Crystal pointed to her temple and had her index finger right at her head. When asked again, if that is how close the gun was to her head she said, “Yes, it was right here at my head.”

She was asked what happened afterwards and told them they took her to the emergency room.  “They said I was like traumatized.”

Her mother described Chrystal’s ordeal in more detail which would seem to be post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Since then, I think she’s ill because she’s sleeping and she wakes up and then she slaps at us, it’s like she’s seeing something.  She says no, no, no.  She doesn’t sleep well at night.  It’s like she’s traumatized, I don’t know what.  We took her to a doctor at the clinic, and they said this girl is sick, take her to the emergency room.  She was taken to the hospital and the doctor said that she is traumatized.”

She continued,

“She wouldn’t stop vomiting and she was trembling like this.  She wouldn’t sleep because she was frightened.  We sent her to another place with family members so this would get out of her head.” 

Her father described that he took her to the Sheriff’s Department on the day that this happened because she was still vomiting and he didn’t know what to do and all they would say was they were sorry and she vomited twice in front of them at the Sheriff’s Department.

They took her to the ER, and they kept her there for three hours and this cost $4000.

The problem is persisting even now months later.

“The school is complaining because they’re saying that she’s not doing well.  She’s not well.  She had an interview with the school counselors, they said to me to take her to a counseling program.  But I say, how, I don’t have the money.  That’s why she hasn’t been taken.”

Some of the commissioners are now looking into ways to get her some treatment.

The commission also heard from the father of Luis Gutierrez, the private investigator, Frank Roman who has been investigating the incident for the commission and has found the witnesses.  He put together a time line of events on the day of the incident.  Mr. Gutierrez described seeing his son in the morgue, seeing the gun shot that entered the back of his neck and left through his head, and then describing the horror as they would not let him see his son at first and then dropped a $20,000 bill for funeral expenses.

For full disclosure, my wife, Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald is one of thirteen members of the commission, other commissioners in attendance included the Chair Justice Cruz Reynoso, Joan Branin, a lawyer, Bill Kopper a lawyer, Mathew Jacobs, a lawyer, Rev. Vernon Holmes, and Irma Diaz.  Testimony continues Sunday from 2 to 5 pm at the Community Room at Woodland Community College.

—David M. Greenwald

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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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10 thoughts on “Witnesses Testify on Gutierrez Case; Allege Gestapo Tactics by Gang Task Force Officers”

  1. E Roberts Musser

    Is testimony given under oath? Also, what weight will commission findings carry with anyone? Is this merely for publicity, to generate enough public outrage to get the case opened up for more investigation, or is some gov’t entity actually waiting for the results/findings of this commission?

  2. JustSaying

    David–
    Questions:

    1. What is the “yolo county independent civil rights commission”? I googled it, and the only listing is this story (maybe there’s another official name?). There are several distinguished members; were were they appointed by the Board of Supervisors? What is their charter? Who acts on their findings? Who are the other 11 members? Will deputies also be giving testimony? Does the commission really take testimony (by oath or affirmation under penalty of perjury)?

    2. Which witnesses alleged “gestapo tactics” by the Gang Task Force, as claimed in your headline? Or is it just your occasional tendency to overstate?

    3. Why would the commission take “testimony” from the Ochoa family in order to “look into the 2009 shooting of Luis Gutierrez”? Did any prosecution or charges result from the “visits” to the Ochoa family home? Have family’s allegations of the two separate incidences been investigated by authorities? If true, it would seem the family already would have its own attorney suing the county.

    This story fills me with unease, but I’m not sure whether it’s because I can’t yet accept the process you’ve described or because the allegations, if true, are so outrageous. Maybe answers to my several questions will help resolve the concerns….

  3. David M. Greenwald

    1. The Yolo County Independent Civil Rights commission is the body formed by Cruz Reynoso to among other things investigate the shooting of Luis Gutierrez. They are independent, so not formed by a government agency. Can’t answer their charter, although I guess that might have been included in the press packet. They apparently will make recommendations, I don’t know who will act. They will ask deputies to do so, but I don’t think they will. They have taken testimony and asked people to swear, but they have no formal powers.

    Wow, do I get paid by the subquestion or just the main question? Just kidding.

    2. Depends on how you describe the actions depicted by the Ochoa family. Overstate? Perhaps since the actual gestapo wouldn’t have stopped by pulling a gun on a nine year old. I think you can really make up your own mind.

    3. As explained, it gives us insight into the conduct and activities by the same officers.

    Why don’t you make an appointment with Justice Reynoso and talk with him. I’m just the reporter here.

  4. JustSaying

    Thanks for the additional background. I’ll send your pay when you answer subquestions 3b and 3c. My concerns would be that we need to know whether anything came from the visits in order to draw conclusions–either charges from the county and/or evaluations of the family allegations. There should be avenues for the Ochoa family other than this commission since it doesn’t seem to have any power to provide relief. (I’m not able to make appointments; I depend on your reporting.)

  5. David M. Greenwald

    “Did any prosecution or charges result from the “visits” to the Ochoa family home?”

    No.

    “Have family’s allegations of the two separate incidences been investigated by authorities?”

    Prieto was quoted in the paper this morning saying that they would look into the incident reported by the Ochoa’s.

    We’re actually looking for a counselor that can help the little girl pro-bono.

  6. Fight Against Injustice

    Someone who attended both days told me that the police department used intimidation tactics against Navarro and her boyfriend so that she would not come forward. I had heard that the police chief wanted her to make her statement in front of five officers including the three men from the task force that were involved. Also, I heard that the boyfriend’s apartment was searched and trashed and that he was put into jail for a short time.

    David, none of this was in your article so I wasn’t sure if I got this right or not.

  7. David M. Greenwald

    Yes that is correct. Seriously I could have written a story everyday for a week with all the information that came out of this weekend, that is part of the story that we did not cover.

  8. SueChan

    Thanks for giving such a thorough reporting of the details. It’s hard to get more than just soundbites from the TV or newspapers.

    I find it curious—and sad— that so many people will question the veracity of the witnesses right off the bat without giving them any benefit of the doubt. There is such disdain in the tone of these letters and of these people and your reporting.

    I can believe these incidents happened. I have a personal friend, the gentlest most honest person I know, who had every drawer in her house dumped out during a search while she sat handcuffed in front of their neighbors. I have had a deputy rip open a cut on my hand while taking my fingerprint for a business license. I know a number of people who have been stopped for no reason and treated like subhumans by cops with attitudes.

    There are many good people in law enforcement but there are still some bad ones who really like their power. I hope all your efforts will open some eyes to this, including Sheriff Prieto’s.

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