Sheriff’s Investigation Claims That Incident Involving a Gun Pointed At Nine Year Old’s Head Did Not Occur

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When the Yolo County Independent Civil Right’s Commission revealed allegations by Crystal Ochoa and her family, that Yolo County Sheriff’s Deputies as part of the Yolo County Gun Task Force put a gun to the then-nine-year old girl’s head, Sheriff Prieto expressed doubt that his deputies would do that but vowed to investigate the incident and have a report in 30 days.

That 30 days had extended to nearly two months, but finally in a letter dated April 19, 2010, the Sheriff’s Department released their findings.  They had three findings that were unfounded including Standards of Conduct, Display and Handling of a firearm, and DIsplay and Discharge of Firearm.

For each, the letter simply stated, “the investigation proved that the act or acts complained of did not occur.”  It was signed by Captain Rich Williams.

In release dated April 21, 2010 also from Captain Williams, it stated, “The Yolo County Sheriff’s Department takes any allegation of misconduct involving its employees seriously.  When we were notified of the allegations, an administrative investigation was immediately initiated, as no complaints regarding this incident had been previously submitted to the Department.”

He continued, “The findings of the investigation were based upon interviews with all of the witnesses present, including a patrol Lieutenant, officers, and the Ochoa family.  Also, a comprehensive review of available records and other documents regarding this incident was conducted.”

It went on to say, “Although personnel investigations are confidential by law, the evidence revealed that employees of the Sheriff’s Department did not violate any laws, Department Rules or regulations, and that their actions were within policy, reasonable and necessary.”  It continued,  “As to the allegations that Sheriff’s Personnel violated specific regulations regarding standards of conduct, unreasonable display and improper handling of firearms – the investigation proved that the alleged act or acts did not occur.  The employees were exonerated of any misconduct.”

Sheriff Ed Prieto stated, “These allegations do not reflect the hard work, dedication and professionalism of this Department and our members in our focus to bring the community “Service Without Limitations.””

The Vanguard spoke with Captain Williams on Wednesday afternoon.  He told the Vanguard, “The basis for the finding was the evidence that was found during the investigation.  It was based on evidence.”

When asked if it was the department’s contention that the family fabricated the incident, he replied, “No it’s not.  The evidence that was discovered during the investigation supported a finding of unfounded.”

He continued, “The investigation revealed and the evidence supported that the allegations that were made did not occur.”  When asked to specify whether a gun was pointed at the little girl’s head he clarified,  “The gun was not pointed at the head of any of the occupants.  They followed standard procedures in serving high risk search warrants and their actions were within policy.”

Cruz Reynoso, who headed the panel where the information about the actions of the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department’s treatment of Crystal Ochoa first came to light, told the Vanguard that he was disappointed but not surprised at the findings by the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department.

He said simply in a statement, “I have a great deal of confidence in the veracity of the witnesses that have come before the commission to make their statement.  They have indicated that they would so testify under oath in court.”

Mark Merin is a Sacramento-based attorney that is now representing the Ochoa family.  Mr. Merin called the findings by the Sheriff’s Department outrageous.  He said it was very clear that they put the gun to the little girl’s head.  He said this was a clear example of a department that’s running amuck, it reflects a lack of leadership at the top. 

Mr. Merin said that they had been very hopeful that an investigation would get to the bottom of what happened.  Captain Rich Williams had treated them very well when they met with him, but he’s very disappointed with the insensitive manner in which this was ultimately handled. 

Mr. Merin told the Vanguard that the family was given no additional information other than what was released to the public.

The Ochoa family has filed a government tort claim against the county which is a required prelude to any lawsuit but they have not made a decision as to whether or not they will go forward with a lawsuit, which now is their only reasonable avenue to redress the actions of the Sheriff’s Deputies.

On the weekend of February 20-21, 2010, the Ochoa family caught the attention of much of Yolo County with their testimony at the Yolo County Independent Civil Rights Commission.  Three members of the gang task force, the same three officers who were involved in the shooting of Luis Gutierrez, served a warrant on their residence.

In great detail the family including Chrystal Ochoa herself described the incident.  According to their testimony, they pointed a gun at the child’s head and threw her out of the house.

Mrs. Ochoa testified in Spanish, “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.”

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 Vanguard obtained the medical records, which described in detail that “a 9-year-old female was sent here from Peterson Clinic with a history that on a the weekend there were some cops at home who showed a gun.  Since then, the patient is not eating or drinking and she is upset.”

It continued, that she was vomiting for four days.  “Clinical exam looks like patient has dehydration…. She needs evaluation tomorrow to make sure this leukocytosis is not coming from abdominal pain…  The patient in the ER was given IV fluids and Reglan with good relief.”

The Sheriff’s department did not comment on Miss Ochoa’s medical condition.  The Vanguard did speak with the family last weekend and was told that she was receiving counseling finally and was doing a lot better.

While Captain Williams was quick to assert that the family had not fabricated the incident, given the detailed nature of their account, the only way there could be no finding is for the family, including the now ten year old girl, to be engaging in elaborate fabrication.

The Vanguard is not one that believes internal investigations are especially reliable.  It seems unlikely at this point that an independent investigator will be asked to look into the charges which leaves the only recourse for the family a civil suit that will give them access to witnesses and discovery of evidence.

—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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16 thoughts on “Sheriff’s Investigation Claims That Incident Involving a Gun Pointed At Nine Year Old’s Head Did Not Occur”

  1. E Roberts Musser

    As I have noted before, the testimony in front of the committee was not taken under oath nor subject to cross examination. We don’t know to what extent this child witness has been coached. It will be interesting to see if the family pursues a lawsuit…

  2. biddlin

    The deputies have not been cross examined either. We know that they have had plenty of time to get their stories straight, and I can assure you they have been well coached by union reps and the DA. Mr Merin will file suit and perhaps a federal civil rights suit will bring the sheriff’s dept. and task force to heel.

  3. David M. Greenwald

    Elaine: If she was coached, it was very convincing both when I spoke to her two months ago and Sunday. Also there is the matter of the medical report which the department has not accounted for.

  4. Rich Rifkin

    [quote]… the Sheriff’s Department released their findings. They had three findings that were unfounded including Standards of Conduct, Display and Handling of a firearm, and DIsplay and Discharge of Firearm. For each, the letter simply stated, “the investigation proved that the act or acts complained of did not occur.” It was signed by Captain Rich Williams.[/quote] It is impossible for a police agency to objectively investigate itself. [quote]According to their testimony, they pointed a gun at the child’s head and threw her out of the house. Mrs. Ochoa testified in Spanish, “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.” [/quote] To me, it is hard, if not impossible, to believe a sheriff would have such bad judgment to put his gun to the head of a 9 year old or really to the head of anyone else. Cops do not do that.

    It is much easier to believe that this child made this up. Kids do that. All the time. And kids can be coached into fantastic stories ([url]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Rascals_day_care_sexual_abuse_trial[/url]) as well. That happens all the time.

  5. Double Bogey

    David:

    You mention the medical report as something that solidifies the story of the family. I disagree. The family never claimed to the medical staff that the girl had a gun held to head or even pointed at her…it simply states that she saw a gun.

  6. David M. Greenwald

    I disagree with that that point is the important detail (someone wrote down that info, and English is not the family’s first language). The important detail would appear to be the fact that she was suffering from what would appear to be some form of post traumatic stress which would tend to validate that some thing more than just seeing a gun occurred. Can kids be coached into fantastic stories? Sure. Can that be manifested in some sort of physical malady? Doubtful in my view.

  7. JustSaying

    I’d certainly be traumatized if three cops showed up in my home with weapons drawn because of because they were following “standard procedures in serving high risk search warrants.” It’s not unlikely that a young child could see the situation the way she does, considering the guns might be about at her head level. It also would seem her view could evolve into a more dramatic perception given all she’s been through since it happened.

    What’s really telling is the medical report. It doesn’t just miss the allegation; it specifically states that the family reported something different. How did the hospital come up with everything else in the report–and just happen to miss what you suggest happened–if language was a problem? It’s beyond me how you conclude that the girl’s unfortunate condition somehow “would tend to validate that something more than just seeing a gun occurred.” I’m no shrink, but I’d think just going through what the police claim happened could account for a nine-year-old’s terrible reaction. (And there you go again, posting the child’s photo a second time.)

    So, now Captain Williams writes that “the investigation proved that the act or acts complained of did not occur.” Of course, it [u]proves[/u] no such thing. He’s satisfied that the investigation tends to support the officers’ reports, but it’s hard to agree that it’s “proved” given the “they said, they said” nature of the interview evidence.

    I just have to buy the story of a bunch of lawyered-up police over the story of a lawyered-up family which was served a search warrant that resulted in at least a gun found. I’m not sure that citizens’ commission with a point of view is going to help much, other than to lock everyone involved into their conflicting stories.

  8. Superfluous Man

    David-
    You’re right, I do recall reading that.

    So was this basically a case of their word versus the officers’ word? How can they prove this didn’t take place beyond discrediting the Ochoa’s statements. How do they explain the medical records and the vomitting in front of the Sheriff, if that in fact occured? What evidence, beyond the officers’ word, could exonerate them?

    You also, said in another article’s comment section that you believe this was a cover-up. Is this just your hunch or do you have a factual basis for your statement?

  9. David M. Greenwald

    One things I’m going to do tomorrow is call for the Sheriff’s Department to release the full investigation. If they did nothing to wrong, they have nothing to hide. I’d like to know how they “proved” it didn’t happen as opposed to found no evidence to sustain, which would at least in my mind be a reasonable conclusion if it was simply the family’s word against the officers.

    “Is this just your hunch or do you have a factual basis for your statement?”

    Not sure I really would go to the level of cover up at this point, but I simply don’t believe a department can adequately investigate its own officer’s/ deputies’ actions.

  10. Superfluous Man

    What’s the probability they will, slim I would guess.

    So you do believe a cover up, on some level, exists in the Gutierrez shooting? I didn’t know you had concluded that, based on my reading of your articles. On what specific levels or parts of the investigation and/or shooting are you allgeging a cover up occured?

  11. JustSaying

    One (of the) things I’m going to do tomorrow is call for the Sheriff’s Department to release the full investigation. If they did nothing [s][s]to[/s][/s] wrong, they have nothing to hide.

    What are the odds you’ll get a response different from what you’ve already reported here?

    It went on to say, “Although personnel investigations are confidential by law….

    Good luck.

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