Commentary: Sheriff Prieto Continues To Polarize, As Federal Investigation Answers Little

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Sheriff-PrietoAs I told KCRA yesterday afternoon, the announcement  by the Department of Justice that they are not filing federal civil rights charges against the three Sheriff’s Deputies involved in the 2009 shooting of Luis Gutierrez changes nothing.

We do not know more today than we did last month about the shooting.  A day after the Sheriff’s Department released a press release on the matter, we learned little more than we knew at the onset.

First of all, it is frustrating at how difficult it is to get additional information from the Department of Justice.  Almost immediately, we attempted to speak with Mark J. Kappelhoff, who signed the letter and who is listed as the Section Chief of the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division.  As the name implies, the DOJ is a labyrinth of bureaucracy.

My first attempt to talk to the section chief himself proved fruitless, as I was immediately sent to their media relations department.

I spoke with a woman there named Xochitl Hinojosa, who sent out the following statement, “After a careful and thorough review, the Justice Department determined that there was insufficient evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt, to pursue federal criminal civil rights charges against Yolo County Sheriff’s Office deputies involved in the fatal shooting of Luis Gutierrez Navarro.”

The release continued, “Under the applicable federal criminal civil rights laws, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived an individual of a constitutional right. Accordingly, the investigation into this incident has been closed without prosecution.”

That is basically the same information that was contained in Mr. Kappelhoff’s letter.  Although, at least we know the standard under which the DOJ investigation operated.

When asked what kind of investigation took place, the Vanguard was informed, “Our investigations involve a review of the available and relevant evidence, which may include witness interviews, review of relevant documents and reports, and forensic examinations, among other relevant investigative steps.”

However, when asked about the possibility of speaking with Mr. Kappelhoff or providing additional information about the investigation, the Vanguard was told, “The Department declines further comment.”

After talking with some of the witnesses, the Vanguard confirmed what it suspected, none of them were contacted by the Department of Justice.  What this means very clearly is, despite the claims by the Sheriff’s Department that there were four independents investigations into the shooting, there was not.

Instead, there was one investigation into the shooting, and two or three reviews of that investigation.  Additional witnesses that have been located, and further details that came out as a result of the investigation by Frank Roman and the Civil Rights Panel, were apparently not part of the Federal Investigation.

So yes, based on the review of the report written by the Woodland Police Department and released by the Yolo County District Attorney’s office, I can see where prosecutors would not believe they have evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt  “that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived an individual of a constitutional right.”

Unfortunately, anyone who expects someone to accept the findings of the original investigation based on this report is being naive.

From the start, the Vanguard and other civil rights organizations in Yolo County have called for a full and independent investigation from an outside agency.  We have not had one.  I do not consider the review by either the Attorney General’s Office or the US Department of Justice to be a full and independent investigation. 

There are simply holes in the story that the report does not explain.  As I told KCRA yesterday afternoon, I do not know whether the sheriffs in this case acted appropriately or not.  I do not have enough information to make a determination either way.  What I do question is the official story, and I question the lack of investigation.

This is not over quite yet.  I think there are two appropriate avenues for continuing.  One is Cruz Reynoso’s panel.  Unfortunately, his investigation was delayed by his automobile accident and injuries from that last June.

Furthermore, the family has a civil rights case against the county.  A civil suit has a lower burden and it establishes not a crime, but improper conduct.

Unfortunately, Sheriff Ed Prieto, instead of helping to calm things down, chose to make more polarizing and incendiary comments.  They were completely unnecessary. Instead of calming things down, he has simply chosen to inflame them.

The Sheriff told KCRA: “Sheriff Ed Prieto believes it’s time for the Woodland community to move on. It is my belief that many individuals and organizations are using this unfortunate incident for their own personal agenda. I’m personally tired of it. I’m tired of defending our officers, law enforcement. We did what we needed to do and we did it appropriately.”

First of all, the Sheriff needs to recognize that the Woodland community is less likely to move on due to his comments.  There are people who are legitimately upset and you cannot order them to move on.

Second of all, he is a public official, and he can be tired of anything he wants, but perhaps he should recognize being a public official means that he is going to get criticized and so too are his employees.  If he is tired of defending his officers, perhaps he should stop inflaming the situation.

If the Sheriff wants people to truly move on, then he has to be part of the process for doing so.  Making comments that attack people’s motives rarely facilitates moving on from an incident that has been controversial. He’s certainly not willing to move on, so why should he expect others to do what he refuses to do?  He’s a public official, he needs to act like it and be the bigger person.

I have no idea who advises him on what to say to the public, but he screwed up, again.  He shot his mouth off. 

What he should have said was that he recognizes that this was a difficult situation where a young man died, he believes his deputies operated appropriately and that the investigations have shown that to be true, and while he understands that there are still questions and grief in the community, we need to work together to build better understanding for the future.

Would he win everyone over with that statement?  No.  But we would not be talking about this today, had he been more diplomatic.

It is his choice on how to respond, but he has to recognize that instead of diffusing things and helping people move on, he just threw more gasoline on the fire.

Two weeks ago, the Vanguard praised the Sheriff for his quick and decisive action regarding Dr. Thomas Gill when Frontline revealed to him problems with the forensic investigator’s work.  However, the Sheriff has handled the Gutierrez situation very poorly and this is just another example.

When someone is shot and killed by law enforcement in the community, it tends to cause criticism and questioning.  People will inherently get angry.  Particularly when the investigations have been less than clear.  The calmest voice in the room needs to be the elected public official, and Sheriff Prieto has not been that, not by a long shot.

Tomorrow there is a planned protest at the Federal Building in Sacramento.  The Civil Rights panel is likely plotting their next actions.  This is not over.

—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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23 thoughts on “Commentary: Sheriff Prieto Continues To Polarize, As Federal Investigation Answers Little”

  1. Mr Obvious

    SO what happens when this panel concludes it’s investigation. They will find the officers acted inappropriately, which they have essentially said from the beginning. They have no rules and and no power. They’ve had an agenda from the beginning. Is this panel your idea of an independent investigation?

  2. David M. Greenwald

    No, but I’ll take you on the point of conspiracy, I don’t see one. From the start my position was to have a full and independent investigation into this shooting by an agency outside of Yolo County. We have not had one. We have had several that have reviewed the investigation that was performed by the police department. Consistently I have stated that is incomplete and there are holes in it. Based on that, why would you expect me to accept the findings by the DOJ? Particularly when they refuse to release what those findings are?

  3. David M. Greenwald

    “Is this panel your idea of an independent investigation? “

    The goal of the panel from the start was to collect information and turn it over to the authorities to conduct their own follow up and make determinations. I do not know that they even intend to issue a finding.

    It is noteworthy that to date the panel is the only body to both search for and interview additional witnesses.

  4. Old Skool Davis

    “From the start, the Vanguard and other civil rights organizations in Yolo County have called for a full and independent investigation from an outside agency”

    What a joke! You’ve got some real cajones to refer to your chat room in the same breath as a bonafide “civil rights organization”

  5. E Roberts Musser

    I have concerns about police procedure, as I have stated before, where undercover gang task force cops are stopping citizens in a way that could make the person being “contacted” react unexpectedly in fear of being accosted. (In other words it was never clear to me if this was a consensual stop or articulable suspicion.)

    That said, I suspect Sheriff Prieto spoke a bit out of anger and frustration, which is understandable in the circumstances. He’s human. This idea that every public official has to be perfect and never make a mistake is just not realistic, and does not give a proper sense of proportion to events.

  6. roger bockrath

    So there are witnesses out there, whose stories contradict the ones offered by the cops who shot Guiterrez in the back. They have never been interviewed by either the Woodland Police Department investigators, or any of the agencies who reviewed the W.P.D. investigation. And now, Sheriff Prieto says that the independent citizens investigation has an agenda, and that he’s tired of having to explain his officers behavior. Now who is it that’s got the cajones?

  7. biddlin

    Two obvious possibilities present themselves. Prieto has a bunch of cowboys he can’t control and is afraid to discipline or he’s the leader of a criminal gang. Either way, he is a liability to Yolo county.

  8. David M. Greenwald

    “That said, I suspect Sheriff Prieto spoke a bit out of anger and frustration, which is understandable in the circumstances.”

    I don’t find it understandable at all. He’s a public official, he has people presumably hired to issue statements, it was the second day of the story, so he knew the question would come, and he didn’t have a better prepared statement than that. Not only is that completely irresponsible, but it is counter productive.

  9. Roger Rabbit

    [quote]They’ve had an agenda from the beginning. Is this panel your idea of an independent investigation? [/quote]

    And your point is the county has no agenda? They are completely non-bias and would not care if the officers were charged or found in the wrong, they would not care if they had to pay out a huge settlement, they would not care if people got fired or loss their jobs for failure to supervise, they (the DA and Sheriff) would not care if this was found to be consistent with racial profiling and they would lose large funding for gang task force, additional DA’s and they would not care if they found to be liable in civil court for their failure to act or to correct these issue or that they actually encouraged this behavior, they (Both Politicians) would care about the bad publicity if a cover was found?

    And you want to accuse others of having an agenda? Smell the coffee boy, the people yelling all clear have the biggest agenda of all.

  10. Roger Rabbit

    As for Ed being a good guy, the verdict on that is still out. I have yet to see him admit any mistakes or every admit any wrongdoings. He was caught buying his wife flowers on the county credit card, he hired his kids to work for him and according to many he gives them special benefits, he keeps the close company of DA Reisig?

    He is human and makes mistakes and he may have took appropriate action on the autopsy blunder, that many think he should have caught before it had to be pointed out to him, but claiming he is a good man, define good. It is relative, has he stood up against Reisig, the Administration or taken a strong stance for some wrong in Yolo? Not that I am aware of. Being a good company man is not the same as being a good man, in my book anyway.

  11. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “I don’t find it understandable at all. He’s a public official, he has people presumably hired to issue statements, it was the second day of the story, so he knew the question would come, and he didn’t have a better prepared statement than that. Not only is that completely irresponsible, but it is counter productive.”

    Perhaps his PR guy got laid off bc of the county’s abysmal budget!

  12. Mr Obvious

    Mr Rabbit, I never claimed the county doesn’t have an agenda. I never even brought up the county. I was commenting on the clear bias of the “investigation” which has been put on my Reynoso. They said from the beginning that they weren’t happy with the investigation by law enforcement.

    The following is a statement by Reynos from the DD.

    [quote]Reynoso said witnesses who testified during three commission hearings in 2010 had “very different” stories about what happened. He said Gutierrez should not have been shot as he was a fleeing person who had done nothing illegal.[/quote]

    These hearings haven’t even been finished yet but he has made is decision. Even Greenwald will now have to admit this is not the impartial independent investigation he has been searching for. I’m glad that Reynoso, the leader of the inquest has proven my point.

    The only actual witness to the shooting was driving the opposite direction and was some distance away. She obviously didn’t have the same view of the incident as the officers who were with in arms reach of the suspect. A lot of weight as been put on her statement that she didn’t see a knife. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t there, she just didn’t see it. Nowhere in the reports I’ve read said she was looking for a weapon in his hand. It may not have been visible to her based on positioning. For people who have complained about eye witness accounts being inaccurate she has been given much importance.

    I am not aware of any witnesses to the shooting that this group has produced. If they did “produce” a witness then why didn’t they come forward to the police in the days or weeks after the shooting? Why didn’t this group encourage the witness to talk to the police, the people who were conducting an actual investigation. Requests were made after the incident by Woodland PD, who handled the initial investigation, for people to come forward.

    This self appointed group has no rules to play by. The “witnesses” are not testifying under the penalty of perjury. Not to mention that this group holds no authority whatsoever. The only thread of credibility this group hold is its leader, a judge who was rejected by voters.

    At least Reynoso has closed the case of this group being the impartial independent investigation YJW has been looking for.

    I agree that there are questions, small questions. The icing on the cake would have been a fingerprint on the knife, I guess we will have to settle on DNA. There will always be questions after any police incident. You can always question if the police planted drugs, falsified a report, are did some other illegal acts, ALWAYS. It just has to be reasonable. I think here we have reason to believe the Deputies acted accordingly.

    The audience of this site is clearly more inclined to always question the police, which isn’t necessarily bad, you just have to know your audience. I think most of the viewers of this blog are more educated than followers of other news outlet, many still believe that Woodland PD was involved in the shooting. I simply don’t see the conspiracy theories being raised here are reasonable when you look at the totality of the situation.

  13. David M. Greenwald

    “These hearings haven’t even been finished yet but he has made is decision. Even Greenwald will now have to admit this is not the impartial independent investigation he has been searching for.”

    I’ve never claimed it was. The only thing I have hoped for was that the commission would be able to get some of the witnesses to come forward, write a report based on what they found, and have an investigative body follow up on those findings.

    “The only actual witness to the shooting was driving the opposite direction and was some distance away.”

    She actually was not that far as Gutierrez almost ran to her car. As I understand it however, there was a car behind her that had a better view than that.

    “If they did “produce” a witness then why didn’t they come forward to the police in the days or weeks after the shooting? “

    A lot of people were reluctant to come forward because it was a police shooting.

    “This self appointed group has no rules to play by. The “witnesses” are not testifying under the penalty of perjury. Not to mention that this group holds no authority whatsoever. The only thread of credibility this group hold is its leader, a judge who was rejected by voters. “

    That is correct and so any findings would have to be followed up on to have any validity.

    “At least Reynoso has closed the case of this group being the impartial independent investigation YJW has been looking for. “

    I never said it was the independent investigation that anyone has been looking for. But in the absence of official action going back, reinterviewing witnesses and finding more, it’s all we have at this point along with a civil trial.

    I don’t see a need for a conspiracy theory, I just want an explanation of how a guy with countless encounters with the police suddenly turned violent, ran from them, and pulled a knife forcing them to shoot him.

  14. Roger Rabbit

    Mr. Obvious: Ok, fair enough you did not say the county did not have an agenda, but you point out the bias with this panel and then you promote the other findings.

    It does not have to be a conspiracy, your comments about discounting the Judge by saying the voters rejected shows a bias on your part. He was still was a Judge and earned that position, saying the voters rejected him is sly way of trying to take away from his credibility. There are plenty of voters that “Reject” DA Reisig but since no one ran against him, he automatically gets another term, with your analysis Reisig was never elected for a second term, the people of Yolo were just stuck with him since no one ran against him.

    As for the conspiracy, cops, LE Administrators, City Attorneys, DA’s, Sheriff’s and other elected officials, trying to avoid bad or negative publicity and lawsuits, get caught up in NOT looking too hard for the negative. So just as omission of the truth is still a lie, failure to look for truth is the same as hiding it. Do you really think the DA or Sheriff is really looking to find fault and problems that will make them look bad? I doubt it and any reasonable person knows it, so yelling cover up, conspiracy nuts, and all the other rhetoric is a nice way to divert the attention from the real issues.

    People have serious questions about the incident, people do not feel they can trust the investigating agencies (DA and Sheriff), not because they are bad, but because they have a vested interest to protect themselves.

    It is easy to blame the educated people asking good questions for all these problems, but it is clear that the elected leaders have failed to do a good job at being open, clear and convincing about the facts.

  15. Mr Obvious

    [quote]I never said it was the independent investigation that anyone has been looking for.
    [/quote]

    You certainly haven’t had anything bad to say about the panel and have spent some time following their “investigation”. IF you were concerned about their impartiality you would have said something as this blog is based on your opinion. That doesn’t appear to be the case.

    [quote]I don’t see a need for a conspiracy theory, I just want an explanation of how a guy with countless encounters with the police suddenly turned violent, ran from them, and pulled a knife forcing them to shoot him. [/quote]

    There may never be an explanations/ Sometimes people do crazy things for no reason. I believe this shooting to be a very sad ordeal for all people involved. There is a family mourning the loss of a son and there are Deputies who will live with this the rest of their lives. I think the answer lies in drugs. People who use meth can become paranoid, violent, and unpredictable. All in all it’s a sad situation.

  16. E Roberts Musser

    MO: “People who use meth can become paranoid, violent, and unpredictable.”

    Correct me if I am wrong, but it was my understanding there was no proof the victim was on meth at the time of the shooting…

  17. David M. Greenwald

    [quote]You certainly haven’t had anything bad to say about the panel and have spent some time following their “investigation”. IF you were concerned about their impartiality you would have said something as this blog is based on your opinion. That doesn’t appear to be the case. [/quote]

    Yes because I understand what they are, and what they are not. They are a body that is collecting information. They have no formal powers and no formal function.

    You seem to imply that because they have bias, they have no usefulness to the community. I don’t accept that premise.

    [quote]There may never be an explanations/ Sometimes people do crazy things for no reason. [/quote]

    In the end you could be right. But since we are dealing with a matter of police power and color authority, we should know whether or not we are. Right now I don’t know whether they acted appropriately and I also don’t know if they acted inappropriately.

    [quote]People who use meth can become paranoid, violent, and unpredictable. [/quote]

    But on the other hand, every other witness who interacted with him leading up to that fatal event described him as acting normal, lucid, and none of them describe him showing signs of meth use. A guy who is hyped up on meth, would not be able to stand still/ sit still for a 15 to 20 minute period. I can always tell when I’m in court, who is on meth because they fidget and shake.

  18. Primoris

    [quote]But on the other hand, every other witness who interacted with him leading up to that fatal event described him as acting normal, lucid, and none of them describe him showing signs of meth use. A guy who is hyped up on meth, would not be able to stand still/ sit still for a 15 to 20 minute period. I can always tell when I’m in court, who is on meth because they fidget and shake. [/quote]

    Why is it that so many commentators are stuck on the notion that Navarro/Gutierrez used meth priorto his appts.?

    It is just as reasonale/plausible that he ingested after he completed his tasks. Some may say it is more plausable as to the issue of illicit drug ingestion and the official metabolite evidence. Try taking and running with that concept for a more balanced approach instead of your conclusory position, if you are able?

    David it’s clear that you do not have extensive expereince dealing with UI meth users. Believe it or not, your lay anecdotal comment is not very supportable. People, to include long-term users, react differently under different circumstances. Many factors to take into consideratoin &/or outline here.

    “Hyped up”….funny

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