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