Was Luis Gutierrez a Sureño?

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For some reason I decided to weigh in on a post on the Woodland Journal that made a claim about the Yolo County Justice Coalition.  The post itself was not really that interesting, but one of the moderators over there, Dino Gay, then made assertions about the Gutierrez case that he called facts.

“Navarro was a Sureño. He was high. He had a knife. He pulled the knife on an officer. Again, all facts.”

Mr. Gay at one point during the debate argued that he was not a journalist, but apparently he is no social scientist or lawyer either.  There are varying definitions of facts, but for a social scientist a fact is a piece of data that leads one to build to a conclusion.  Conclusions are never proven, proofs are for mathematics, rather we may assess a theory on the basis of our ability to show that the facts lead to a particular conclusion.

Each of the things that Mr. Gay calls facts are in fact conclusions, or in some cases assertions, based on evidence.  We must evaluate the veracity and strength of that evidence in order to determine whether his claims occurred.  And it is here that his case falls apart.

On what basis does Mr. Gay claim that Luis Gutierrez was in fact a Sureño?  He basis his claim on two pieces of information, the first is strangely the Woodland Police Department’s criteria for gang validation.  Strange because it somewhat differs from the CALGANG criteria and yet this incident did not occur in the Woodland Police Department, but rather the Sheriff’s Department.

The second piece of evidence he cites is the statement of probable cause that concluded, “Based on your affiant’s training, experience and conversations that your affiant had with other law enforcement Officers your affiant believes that Luis Navarro is a member of the Sureño criminal street gang, based on his tattoo’s and actions described above.”

A statement of probable cause is of course not a fact, it is not proof of Mr. Gutierrez’s membership in a criminal street gang.  It is really only the opinion of one Officer based on two pieces of evidence that at best are circumstantial.  If they needed to convict Luis Gutierrez for instance, they would have to show a lot more evidence in court than this statement of probable cause.  That fact seems to elude Mr. Gay however who continued to assert it as sufficient to prove that he was a gang member.

The first piece of evidence is the tattoo.  In the statement of probable cause it reads: “Sgt. Davis reviewed the pictures of Luis Navarro’s tattoos consisting of a single dot on his right index finger, a single dot on his left pinky finger, a single dot on his left ring finger, and a single dot on his left middle finger. Sgt. Davis told me that based on his training and experience, it is his opinion that the dot tattoos consisting of a single dot on one hand and a three dots on the other represent the number “13” which is a common symbol used by the Sureño Criminal Street Gang.”

Now if you read the autopsy report, it notes this tattoo, “A faint single “dot” tattoo was noted on the dorsal surface of the index finger of the right hand.”

I take immediate note of the term “faint” which might indicated that it was not a recent tattoo.  This is actually the strongest piece of physical evidence that he might have been in a gang.  The problem is that we do not know how old that tattoo was and we do not know the context in which he got the tattoo either.

However, he dismissed my suggestion that perhaps it was an old tattoo as “conjecture” while allowed his own point that the tattoo definitively meant he was in a gang to stand as not conjecture.  Interesting. 

The fact is we don’t know.  Maybe he was in a gang when he was 15, and has long since ceased.  Maybe he had another reason for getting the tattoo.  Is that conjecture?  Sure.  Is that more conjecture than the assertion that he was definitely in a gang?  No way.

Even the DA’s report was somewhat less conclusive on the point noting that “Sureño gang members sometimes possess similar markings.”

The other evidence was that in May of 2007 Mr. Gutierrez was apparently in a case with a known Sureno Gang Member.  Reads the affidavit, “Officer Christiansen noted that Luis
Navarro was a passenger in a vehicle stop with Luis Santillan and noted that Luis Navarro was with a known Sureño Gang member (Santillan).”

So now we have an identification that he was a gang member based two criteria (the CALGANG gang validation would require three, by the way).  One is that he was in the car with a known Sureño.  It would be interesting to know how it was known he was a Sureño.  But is that really evidence that he is in a gang?  Seriously.

The only other evidence that he might have been a gang member comes from Rudulfo Flores who the DA’s report cites.

From the DA’s report:

“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.”

We immediately were suspicious of this witness as his descriptions of Gutierrez never seemed to match either his criminal record or encounters with police, we will get to this in a minute.

We do know from the report of Frank Roman, the investigator for the Independent Civil Rights Commission, that it was not clear why Mr. Flores would even be in custody on June 1.  Mr. Roman did find an arrest dated July 1, 2009 for possession of heroin.  He also discovered a directive from the District Attorney’s Office to Decline to File charges for that possession offense (a suspicious action in and of itself for those familiar with the DA’s track record for prosecuting cases).

Mr. Roman also spoke to a parole officer who dealt with Mr. Flores.  He was told by this parole officer that Mr. Flores had no known gang ties and spoke fluent English.

He also found out that Mr. Flores was deported to Mexico shortly after being released on July 2, 2009.

The Vanguard did a parallel investigation and came to the same conclusion.

The other problem that Mr. Gay is conveniently ignoring is that other than the tattoos and his association with an allegedly known gang member, there is no direct evidence that Mr. Gutierrez was in a gang.  In fact, there is more hard evidence to suggest that he was not.

At the time of his death, Luis Gutierrez was 26 years old.  If he were a gang member, that would likely put him on the older side of things and probably he would have been for a good number of years.  And yet there is nothing in his criminal record that would suggest that he was a gang member.

His criminal record consists of three criminal cases involving the violation of Vehicle Code Section 14601, which is driving without a valid license two of them from 2008 and one from 2009.

Between 2004 and 2009, there were 15 contacts between law enforcement and Luis Gutierrez.  There were other contacts that were identified but not verified.  These include traffic stops, pedestrian contacts, vehicle code citations, and a warrant arrest.

The DA’s report tells us, “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 piece of evidence among all should give us pause when we take the official accounts of the entire story into account.  So he has no history in 15 contacts, not an insignificant number, of resisting arrest, attacking police officers, or being under the influence of a controlled substance.  He has no real criminal record other than driving without a valid license.  And yet we are to believe that he was a dangerous gang member?

Is that conjecture on my part?  Yes.  But it is conjecture based on his past history of interactions with the police.

I am sorry just because a police officer said that he was a gang member, does not make him a gang member.

The next assertion is that he was high.  The toxicology reports that they found high levels of methamphetamine and amphetamine in Luis Gutierrez’s system.  If that is accurate, we could probably conclude that he took an illicit dose, as the autopsy report does.  We do not know of course when he would have taken the dose and at what stage the encounter took place.

But we also have other evidence that leads us to at least question this finding.  We have two eyewitnesses who Mr. Gutierrez spent considerable time with, an insurance agent and a DMV employee who report that Mr. Gutierrez was acting normal, he was able to accurately take a driving exam and fill out his paperwork.  The insurance agent in particular, report to the Independent Civil Rights Commission that she observed him spent 20 minutes filling out insurance forms without the kind of fidgeting associated generally with high levels of meth use.  She also mentioned that she was very familiar with the signs of meth use and Mr. Gutierrez did not appear to show any signs of it. 

And yet we are to believe in a matter of a few hours later that he was so hyped up on meth that he was uncontrollably violent toward police when he encountered a situation that he encountered more than a dozen times previously and moreover when he had committed no crime whatsoever.

We also know that with a pretty sizable history of encounters with the police, he had no record of being under the influence of a controlled substance.  These reports should at least caution us before concluding definitively that he was high.

Finally Mr. Gay asserts that he pulled a knife on the Sheriff’s Deputies, and stated this was a fact.  We know that is what what two of the Sheriff’s Deputies claim, but they were also the same two who shot and killed Mr. Gutierrez.  We also know that no one else saw Mr. Gutierrez with a knife.  That does not mean he might not have had a knife, but based on what we actually know, we have the claims of two officers who said he pulled a knife and a knife that was recovered on the scene seeming to show evidence of Mr. Gutierrez’s DNA on it, but no fingerprints.

“The DOJ/BFS Latent Print Program examined the submitted knife. No identifiable latent prints were developed,” read the report.  It continued, “Department of Justice Senior Criminalist Shawn Kacer conducted DNA analysis on a swab taken from the knife. He completed his report on September 3, 2009. He analyzed the DNA on the knife and compared it to a reference sample of DNA from Luis Gutierrez Navarro. He concluded that it is likely Navarro is the source of the DNA detected on the knife.”

Is it significant that no identified fingerprints were found on the knife?  Hard to know.  But I just have to point out, how many times have we heard the story of that the person had a knife, only to find out it was folded in their pockets and thus no threat to anyone.

I simply do not believe we know for sure that Mr. Gutierrez attacked the deputies with a knife.  The only evidence that suggests he did, is the testimony of the two deputies who shot him. 

So to sum it up.  The evidence that Mr. Gutierrez is a gang member is circumstantial and weak.  It is contradicted strongly by his lack of criminal record.  The evidence that he had meth in his system is a good deal stronger, but we cannot definitively claim he was high at the time he was shot.  The evidence that he pulled a knife on the deputies rests entirely on their testimony.

None of these facts by the way, change our suspicions about what may or may not have happened.  Nor do they bolster the official story.  I still do not know what happened out on that overpass that day over a year ago.  I also certainly believe that official story has serious holes and question marks.

—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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19 thoughts on “Was Luis Gutierrez a Sureño?”

  1. Ryan Kelly

    David, It is very clear that we have gang activity in Davis. Last night at Celebrate Davis I observed a large group of young men all dressed in XLL white T-shirts, baggy pants and bandannas. They traveled in a tight group. Throughout the evening there were problems – swearing, fighting, intimidation, etc. that marred this family-oriented event. I asked an officer about them and was told that they belonged to the Surenos that lived in the low-income apartments just North of the park and that they have been causing problems all year long. He mentioned syringes and drug trash left at the skate park. When officers arrive on location they all run in different directions. Because they are all dressed the same, unless you actually physically catch them, it is difficult to identify them. Other evidence of gang activity is the substantial increase in graffiti all over town. How do you or your experts suggest that Davis addresses this growing problem?

  2. merixcoatl20

    You make good points. The way the killing was investigated leaves many people doubting the authenticity of certain claims.

    It is very easy to simply say that Gutierrez was a gang member. Whether we admit it or not, his Hispanic ethnicity may be one of the reasons many people do not question law enforcements gang claims.

    From what I’ve seen, not enough evidence exists to actually categorize Gutierrez as a gang member.

    On a side note, a few days ago I went to the Woodland DMV to pick up some documents I needed. I took a number at 11am and was helped at 2pm. I cannot imagine anyone on meth being able to wait that long without exercising some type of suspicious behavior.

  3. JustSaying

    And yet we are to believe in a matter of a few hours later (after Gutierrez was observed behaving normally) that he was so hyped up on meth that he was uncontrollably violent toward police….

    The toxicology reports that they found high levels of methamphetamine and amphetamine in Luis Gutierrez’s system.

    How many hours later is “a few”? And is it enough time for Gutierrez to get high levels of meth and amphetamine into his body and start behaving as deputies report?

    Doesn’t the toxicology report provide evidence that supports the deputies? Without conflicting with witnesses who saw him hours before the incident? Why would this lead you to question the toxicology finding?

  4. David M. Greenwald

    The DMV person saw him immediately before the incident, according to the time line he went to the insurance office just before the DMV. Obviously each visit took a bit of time.

  5. JustSaying

    Thanks, David. So it was minutes before that he performed well at the DMV, not an hour or “a few hours” before he was shot? Long enough to get high? Why wouldn’t the toxicology report support the deputies? Why would the earlier witness reports make you question the toxicology findings?

  6. David M. Greenwald

    I would have to re-listen to the tape for the exact timing of events, he was dropped off by his mother to go to get the insurance and then take the driver’s test, that took a few hours, hence the mention, however, he went directly from taking the driver’s test to walk home via Gum Ave and met up with the Sheriff’s. Would he have the opportunity somewhere in there to take the meth, it’s possible. It seems more likely that he would not have.

    “Why wouldn’t the toxicology report support the deputies?”

    The toxicology report suggests he was under the influence of meth.

    “Why would the earlier witness reports make you question the toxicology findings? “

    More the point it makes me question whether or not he was actually intoxicated because he did not exhibit any indication that he was.

    The claim that the police are making here is that he was a gang member predisposed to violence, he was under the influence of drugs which would lead him to be violent, and therefore we should disregard his long history of interactions with police with no violence and drugs and believe he attacked the officers who shot and killed him in self-defense. I think there are enough doubts to question that official story. The witness reports are part of that back drop.

  7. Superfluous Man

    “concluded that it is likely Navarro is the source of the DNA detected on the knife.”

    I think it’s worth noting that the operative term here, “likely”, is not defined or explained. Does “likely” just mean he couldn’t be ruled out as the source? What percentage or figure corresponds with “likely”?

    The report never states whether or not the DNA sample taken from the knife was tested against the DNA of the three deputies. I think that is an important piece of information that was omitted or did they not test the DNA against the deputies? What would be the protocol in this situation?

  8. David M. Greenwald

    Good points. I assumed, again, “assumed” that likely meant that they could say 100% it was, but within their degree of certainty, but it is another shortcoming in the report that they do not define the term and also check against the DNA’s of the officers. After all, perhaps it was his knife, but he never pulled it out?

  9. Superfluous Man

    The DA report implies that Gutierrez is a gang member or at least throws the possibility out there that he is involved with gangs on some level, but they never accuse or confirm the assertion that so many choose to accept as ‘fact’, that Gutierrez was a Sureno. The report doesn’t even say something to the effect of “there is belief that Gutierrez had some involvement in criminal street gangs.” Nothing at all in the report about him being a gang member.

    Was the DA’s Office just holding this ‘fact’ back or did they also think there was not enough there to label him as gang member?

    When they searched Gutierrezs’ home, looking for evidence tying him to gangs, they found what? As far as we know, they found nothing damning or they just never mentioned it if they did.

    Other than the in custody parolee’s statement, who has since been deported, did any other acquaintances, friends, family or gang members(validated and non-validated alike) ever, EVEN ONCE, claim Gutierrez was ever involved with a gang? Were these questions ever asked?

    There is a big ‘ol database with over 1,000 validated gang members in Yolo County alone, none of them knew Gutierrez to be a gang member? Were they asked if they knew him? Did anyone at all ever suspect he was, other than that one WPD officer who wrote the affidavit?

    Hey, here’s a thought, why don’t we ask that “known” Sureno gang member(mentioned in the affidavit) with whom Gutierrez was in the vehicle with, what Gutierrezs’ affiliation with gangs was. Isn’t this guy’s name public. Do you think law enforcement has asked him?

    We know, according to the Civil Rights Commission, that not one person they have spoken with regarding this incident was claimed to know or believe Gutierrez was a gang member.

  10. Superfluous Man

    Does anyone else find it bizarre the Deputy Bautista’s statement in the report shifts from observing the chase to arriving at the scene?

    “He made a U-turn and drove eastbound on East Gum Avenue. He saw Sgt. Johnson and Deputy Oviedo chasing Navarro. He did not recall if they had their firearms drawn while they were chasing Navarro. When Deputy Bautista arrived at the location where the pursuit ended”

    So, what happened between him seeing them chase Gutierrez and arriving at the scene, were he lay wounded? The report does not explain this gap. I’m not saying Bautista’s being less than truthful, he may have explained what he saw in between those two points or he could have explained why he failed to witness or hear the shooting, but the DA report just neglected to mention those statements in the official report.

  11. JustSaying

    The toxicology report suggests he was under the influence of meth.

    The toxicology results probably said what you reported before, that there were “high levels of methamphetamine and amphetamine in Luis Gutierrez’s system.” That evidence is beyond dispute, right? If the levels were high enough to account for the belligerent behavior, and knife attack, reported by the deputies who were at the scene, the toxicology report supports them. The DMV/insurance witness earlier reports may be accurate, but that certainly couldn’t mean that Gutierrez did not have high levels of drugs at the time he encountered the deputies.

    I understand your “back drop” concept and social science approach (“data that leads one to build to a conclusion”), but all data aren’t equal. The conclusions that really matter are simple. Did Gutierrez respond the way deputies describe, threatening them with a knife? Was it appropriate for deputies react the way they did, saying they shot him self-defense?

    I’m not sure whether laying out lots of facts to question the minor facts that “investigators” reported does much to support the idea that the deputies aren’t telling the truth about what happened.

    Whether the Sheriff’s Office now thinks he was a gang member doesn’t matter. How Gutierrez behaved at other stops, even 15 of them, when he wasn’t affected by “high levels of methamphetamine and amphetamine” doesn’t matter. Whether he acted just fine before the incident doesn’t matter.

    I am glad you decided to take on Mr. Gay. It’s worth the time to read to see how two folks can get to such different conclusion while trying to look at the same facts. Both evaluations rely on too much “what if,” “perhaps,” “maybe,” selective use of “facts,” and lots of unsupported conjecture.

    But I just have to point out, how many times have we heard the story of that the person had a knife, only to find out it was folded in their pockets and thus no threat to anyone.

    You’ve got me here; I can’t think of one. How about you? In Yolo County?

  12. David M. Greenwald

    JustSaying:

    I’m going to get back to you on the toxicology results, got a pretty interesting tip last night that I want to follow up on.

    I agree with you that the two key questions are did Gutierrez respond the way that the deputies describe and therefore were their actions appropriate. I’m not sure they were ever justified in stoppping Gutierrez although consensual stops give a lot of leeway, it seems that he was stopped simply because he was a Latino and everything that occurred afterward flowed from that. Nevertheless, if he indeed pulled a knife on them, they may have been justified in shooting him (if he was indeed a threat and hadn’t turned and tried to run away).

    But there is also a reason why the DA’s went out of their way to almost immediately release the autopsy report that showed meth in his system and the statement of probable cause that claimed he was a gang member. They obviously thought that was important to understanding the encounter.

    “I’m not sure whether laying out lots of facts to question the minor facts that “investigators” reported does much to support the idea that the deputies aren’t telling the truth about what happened.”

    Credibility is important, if you are not credible on smaller issues, the general thought is that you are hiding something on the big question.

    “Whether the Sheriff’s Office now thinks he was a gang member doesn’t matter. How Gutierrez behaved at other stops, even 15 of them, when he wasn’t affected by “high levels of methamphetamine and amphetamine” doesn’t matter. Whether he acted just fine before the incident doesn’t matter. “

    If we had full knowledge of the event, you would be correct. But we don’t. So now we have an official story of what happened, we have some evidence that supports it, we have some holes in that story, and the key question is whether the portrait that the Sheriff’s Office and DA are trying to paint of Gutierrez is accurate. Was he a dangerous man, who was high on meth, a gang member, liable to attack the deputies and pose a threat? In answering that his history does matter, and the picture that they paint is inconsistent with the man’s history – how he behaved in his previous encounters with the police and his lack of criminal record. That leads us to ask, what made this incident different from all others? Was he high only in this incident or did the deputies do something that triggered events that would unfold?

    The problem that we now run up against is that no one other than the two guys who shot Mr. Gutierrez ever saw a knife. So based on that lack of corroboration with their story, we have to evaluate the rest of their story to see if it makes sense and when we find holes and inconsistencies, when the DA’s report is incomplete, we have questions that need to be asked.

    You are correct, my evaluation does rely on “what if” and “perhaps” and the reason for that is that I don’t know what happened. I don’t know if the sheriff’s were justified. I have simply not decided that they are justified and I have asked questions and conducted small pieces of investigation trying to determine whether their account is accurate. The more I look, the more questions I have.

  13. David M. Greenwald

    An interesting final point is that I now have additional information about whether the law enforcement authorities view Gutierrez as a gang member.

    Omar Flores from the WPD had been in charge of investigating Gutierrez’s background with regards to gang affiliation. He said that he determined that Gutierrez was not a gang member in Woodland. The Sheriff’s Department had reached that conclusion but the Sheriff’s department has a different criteria than Woodland PD (or Davis PD btw) in determining who is a validated gang member. While WPD uses three criteria, the Sheriff’s department only use two.

    Now that is an interesting point that needs to be fleshed out at some time because to me it illustrates how subjective the gang validation process is.

    At best, a gang validation is evidence that suggests an individual might be a gang member. The problem is that there might be alternative explanations. For instance, tattoos. I met some people who are validated gang members in West Sacramento and they are validated due to affiliation, wearing gang colors, and tattoos. One person was wearing a red hat, in the car with their cousin who was a validated gang member, and had a tattoo. Three points. The red hat was a 49ers cap, their cousin was not a gang member, and the tattoo simply depicted the fact that they were from a certain neighborhood. They had no real criminal record, just like Gutierrez. But they were validated by the three point measure according to CALGANG procedures. And yet, they were not a gang member.

    Now what happens if I were wearing a red shirt and driving those two individuals and the Sheriff’s department pulled me over, would I then be a validated gang member? Or is there an unwritten third criteria that the Sheriff’s department might use, and exempt me because I’m white?

  14. JustSaying

    Whew, sounds like Yolo County shares some of Arizona’s ID attitude. Maybe you’ll be validated IF you’re as bald as I am; better stick with earth tones for your shirts. What’s the penalty for meeting three (or two) of these criteria, assuming one doesn’t break any laws?

  15. David M. Greenwald

    It’s not illegal to be a gang member, so the validations seem to be for tracking purposes and possibly grant purposes only. That makes it more dangerous, because there is not third party/ judicial oversight, no process that is standardized for removal, and it is at the whim of the police as to what to do with it.

  16. Superfluous Man

    JustSaying,

    “better stick with earth tones for your shirts.”

    Apparently that is not a deterrent. According to Sgt. Johnson’s statement in the DA report: “Navarro was wearing a white baggy shirt and dark pants or shorts. Sgt. Johnson stated that he is aware 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.”

    When deduced down, we’re left with Hispanic.

    David,

    Can’t gang validation increase the punishment of certain crime(s) committed by a validated gang member?

  17. David M. Greenwald

    As I understand it, not really with lots of nuances. But you don’t need to be validated to be enhanced and someone validated won’t necessarily be enhanced unless the DA deems their actions in furtherance of criminal street gang activity – another nebulous and misapplied concept.

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