Feds Close Investigation of Gutierrez Shooting But Too Many Questions Remain For Skeptics in the Community

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img_3299.jpgOn Monday, the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department announced that they had received a letter from that the United States Department of Justice stating that the U.S. Department of Justice has concluded their investigation into the fatal shooting of Luis Gutierrez-Navarro. 

In a letter dated February 4, 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice stated “After careful consideration, we concluded that the evidence does not establish a prosecutable violation of the federal criminal civil rights statutes. Accordingly, we have closed our investigation.”

The U.S. Department of Justice confirms findings on investigations previously conducted by Woodland Police Department and the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office, which was also supported by the California Attorney General, according to the release from Sergeant Lance Faille.

The letter itself from the agency reveals little more than they do not believe the evidence rises to a prosecutable violation under federal law.

At this point, we have no idea what this federal investigation entailed.  Previous follow-ups merely reviewed the investigation carried out by the Woodland Police Department and concluded that they did not abuse their discretion – a severely high standard.

Woodland Mayor Art Pimentel told the Daily Democrat that he “is hopeful the community can move on. He is pleased with the outcome of the federal Gutierrez investigation.”

“I’m glad a thorough investigation has been done by the state and the federal government on this particular issue,” he told the paper. “I know there was a lot of concern from the community regarding the unfortunate incident.”

Sacramento civil rights attorney Mark Merin told the Sacramento Bee on Tuesday that the federal Justice Department’s investigation addressed only a narrow question.

“It just means the federal prosecutors don’t believe they could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers committed criminal acts,” he told the paper. “It’s a very low standard. You can have malfeasance without criminal culpability.”

The question now falls to the civil rights panel chaired by Cruz Reynoso.  That panel last spring had unveiled critical new information in the case, however, their work became delayed when Justice Reynoso, a retired California Supreme Court Justice, was seriously injured in an automobile accident in Virginia.

Attorney Merin told the Bee, “If they come back and say the officers shot while Gutierrez was running away, that’s going to be a lot more trustworthy than anything prosecutors come out with.”

Sheriff Ed Prieto, however, calls that panel biased and says it lacks legitimacy.  He told the Bee it was a self-appointed group and that he could appoint himself governor.  While potentially true, the question is whether they can uncover new evidence and witnesses that may paint a different picture.

Reaction, for instance, on the comment section of the Woodland Daily Democrat site was extremely polarized, with those who believed the official count diverging widely from those who are skeptical.  This report, with a lack of released findings, is unlikely to settle anything.

The Sheriff’s Department would like to believe that this will put the issue to rest, but too many questions remain unanswered.

Those who defend the actions of the Sheriff’s deputies point toward the fact that Mr. Gutierrez had a knife, he was on meth, and he was a gang member.

Vienna Navarro (no relation) testified that she was driving slowly on the overpass and saw the three deputies along with Luis Gutierrez.  She never saw a knife but she said that Mr. Gutierrez exchanged punches with one of the officers.

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 Katie Lane.”

As we have noted, not one witness other than the Sheriff’s Deputies ever reported seeing a knife.

A driver of a vehicle said that while she saw the officer’s badge and gun, she did not see a knife in Gutierrez’s hands.  She said, “I do not recall seeing anything on his hands.”  She continued, “I saw the gun that the cop had, and I think that if he would have, if he would have had anything I think I would have seen it.” 

She later said, “I think that if I  was able to see a gun on the other guy’s hand, I am pretty sure I think I would have been able to see something on his hand, but I don’t recall seeing anything.”

The autopsy reports high concentrations of meth in Mr. Gutierrez’s system.

Rosalia Redones, an insurance broker, met  Mr. Gutierrez-Navarro the day of the death.  At 12:29 the application came in, the victim signed everything.  He did everything necessary and appeared normal, in paying for auto coverage for 3 months in advance.  He spent about 15 to 20 minutes with her.

The victim was lucid, and the witness saw nothing strange.  This information called into question official autopsy reports claiming that Mr. Gutierrez-Navarro was under the influence of a large amount of meth.  A worker at the DMV, where he had just passed the test for his driver’s license, has made similar claims.

Finally the claim is that Mr. Gutierrez-Navarro was a Sureno.

There is limited evidence that Mr. Gutierrez-Navarro was a Sureno.  The statement of probable cause concludes, “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.”

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.”

More evidence of gang membership 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).”

From the DA’s report,  “On June 1, 2009, Yolo Sheriff’s Office Deputy J. Lazaro contacted Rudolfo Ruiz 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 [him]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.”

However, who Mr. Flores even is remains a mystery.  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.

Mr. Flores’ report lacks a good deal of credibility anyway, as he describes him as a good knife thrower and yet Mr. Gutierrez-Navarro, at 26 years old, lacked any kind of meaningful criminal record.

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-Navarro.  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?

In summary, the evidence that Mr. Gutierrez-Navarro is a gang member remains 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.

The problem at this point is moving from suspicions about the official story, which seems to have huge holes that have never been resolved in a satisfactory manner, to a conclusion that the officers were involved in an unjustified shooting.

My guess, and this is sheer conjecture, is that the follow-up reports did not conduct their own fresh investigations, as we have not run into any witness who has talked to the Department of Justice, tso it may be hat they have simply reviewed the original report and concluded from those asserted facts that there is no evidence to support a prosecutable case.

Mr. Gutierrez-Navarro’s family undoubtedly will move forward with their lawsuit for wrongful death, which contains a far lower civil standard of proof and the civil rights panel will continue with theirs.

The Sheriff will view this as vindication, but few people in the community who had concerns about the incident will be assuaged of those concerns as the result of this statement by the DOJ.

—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 “Feds Close Investigation of Gutierrez Shooting But Too Many Questions Remain For Skeptics in the Community”

  1. Matt Rexroad

    Come on man.

    It seems that you will not accept a decision where you do not have all the answers to every question that might come up. Life does not work like that.

    You and everyone else asked for investigation after investigation. You got them. Now that you have them you are complaining about the result.

    Matt Rexroad
    662-5184

  2. David M. Greenwald

    Matt: I told you (and everyone) from the start what I wanted to see, which was an independent investigation. There has not been one. All they have done is reviewed the report that was already written. And do not tell me I do not know that, because I have not heard directly or indirectly from any witness that has spoken to the feds about this case.

    And the bottom line, I believe that they do not have a prosecutable case, which was the standard here, that does not mean they acted appropriately. It just means they do not have enough to charge the officers with a crime. I agree with that, they don’t have enough right now to do that.

  3. E Roberts Musser

    What I would hope (I am ever the optimist)would come out of this case is a good hard look by the Sheriff’s Dept of their criminal gang unit procedures. Bottom line, what bothers me about this case more than anything else is, to wit: If a citizen is “stopped” by a car full of undercover cops that appear to be gang members, who step out of the car and head towards the citizen who may perceive they are being accosted by thugs, it is not inconceivable that the citizen may feel threatened and do something unpredictable. This reminds me of the case in New York of the disreputable police gang task force that was disbanded after shooting 37 times a suspect that did not speak English and was just reaching for his cell phone bc the undercover officers came upon him in the dark in front of his apartment and he thought he was being accosted.

  4. David M. Greenwald

    I saw these guys testify in court in another case, the driver in this case is huge but a lot of it is fat. The other two look like they are in the gym 24/ 7 with help. These guys make my shoulders look small. They are huge. Those are scary individuals. If I didn’t know they were cops, I’d be running from them too.

  5. Roger Rabbit

    [quote]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).[/quote]

    Not only a track record of charging everything, but also a track record of cutting plea deals if you testify for him, regardless if it is the truth or not, as long as Reisig can use it to him him get a conviction, he will use it and of course claim I have no proof that the crook I gave a sweet deal to, for his testimony, is not telling the truth.

    As for Matt, come on Matt, you sing the company line no matter what. If it was up to you, Reisig or Ed would never be questioned and never do anything wrong.

    Let’s be clear here, there was not additional investigation! There was simply a review of the reports. That is like reviewing DA Reisig’s press releases and then determining from the press release that it was true and accurate. Not a very good or reliable standard, even for Yolo.

  6. Mr.Toad

    its sort of the opposite of OJ except this time the cops beat the criminal rap but the civil case is going to cost the county a lot of money. The case always hinged on the knife and David claims no witness claims to have seen it. If that fact holds true It maybe not enough for the feds to move against the cops but enough for the family to make a claim against the county.

  7. Rifkin

    ELAINE: [i]”This reminds me of the case in New York of the disreputable [b]police gang task force[/b] that was disbanded after shooting [b]37 times[/b] a suspect that [b]did not speak English[/b] and was just reaching for [b]his cell phone[/b] bc the undercover officers came upon him in the dark in front of his apartment and he thought he was being accosted.”[/i]

    For the record in the Amadou Diallo case:

    1. It was a “street crimes unit,” not a gang task force, though you are correct it was disbanded after this tragedgy;
    2. The officers fired 41 shots, not 37, and they hit him 19 times;
    3. Amadou Diallo spoke and understood English, though it was not his first language*. He had only lived in New York for 3 years when he was killed, but he attended English-speaking schools in London, England and other places, including Singapore, before he moved to the United States;
    4. He pulled out his black wallet from his back pocket, not his cell phone, and the officers testified that they thought the black wallet looked like a gun in the darkness of the vestibule.

    All four cops were acquitted by a jury (which had 4 blacks and 8 whites) of all charges in the case. Also, the federal government chose not to charge any of the four officers with civil rights violations.

    Nevertheless, Diallo’s parents were awarded $3 milllion in a settlement with NYC.

    I don’t know if the Diallo case is all that similar to the Gutierrez case. However, it does suggest that even when there is an acquittal or no crim is charged, there still can be a very steep civil punishment. How such a civil punishment serves society is unclear to me when the courts decide no crime took place.

    *A theory in the case was that Diallo’s poor English played a role in this tragedy, but in the criminal trial that seemed to be disproven. The cops in the case, before they shot him dead, kept calling him by the wrong name, because they thought he was the serial rapist who they were looking for. Diallo apparently pulled out his wallet to show them his ID to show he was not that guy. (The NYPD caught the rapist a few days later.) The cops were also screaming keep your hands up. But he felt the need to show them he was not the person they wanted. … I don’t blame Diallo. He was an innocent victim. But I agree with the jury’s decision–it was a tragic accident, not a murder.

  8. Rifkin

    [i]”How such a civil punishment serves society is unclear to me when the courts decide no crime took place.”[/i]

    Let me clarify here: If the criminal courts got it wrong, then I have no problem with a civil punishment. It’s just that I think the criminal courts got this case right, despite the fact that Mr. Diallo did nothing wrong.

    Another thing about the Diallo case: the usual suspects, all the fake “civil rights” leaders who enrich themselves on the false notion that America is an evil racist country came out in the Diallo case with their wallets open, hoping to profit off this tragedy. I am dumbfounded how anyone who is not dumb can follow the Reverends Sharpton and Jackson, given their unscrupulous behavior over many decades.

    [img]http://angrywhitedude.com/wp-content/uploads2/2010/12/al-sharpton.jpg[/img]

  9. Mr.Toad

    I once saw Jesse Jackson speak in Central Park in Davis. I remember him saying “You know what Davis is famous for? Bakke.” Yes, he had this town all figured out.

    Civil penalties are all you can get. Its the only way that a family can get compensated for a wrongful death. How do you get that without a criminal case is easy. The law applies a different standard. I am sure this case will end with the family getting a big settlement and the insurance rates for the county’s liability will increase accordingly. At some point the decision makers go to law enforcement and say can you guys try to be a little more careful this is costing us a lot of money we can’t afford. This is how its supposed to work.

  10. Double Bogey

    I saw these guys testify in court in another case, the driver in this case is huge but a lot of it is fat. The other two look like they are in the gym 24/ 7 with help. These guys make my shoulders look small. They are huge. Those are scary individuals. If I didn’t know they were cops, I’d be running from them too.

    Wow…I am shocked by your comment. I assume that by “in the gym 24/7 with help” that you are accussing these officers of using steroids…that really speaks volumes as to your pre-determined thoughts about these men. What gives you the right to slander these men by writing something like that?

  11. Roger Rabbit

    to Bogey: YOU assumed, what a shock. You mentioned Steroids and slander, so what if they are big and they are scary, I did not see steroids mentioned except by you. There are other guys big and scary, look at Arnold Schwarzenegger he is big and scary, look at Jeff Reisig, he is big and scary, well maybe those two are the best example, so I guess you can just keep on assuming.

  12. Double Bogey

    Rabbit: Give me a freaking break…everyone who read the comment by DMG knew exactly what he was saying…Get off your high horse. The comment by DMG was BS…Just because a person has muscle mass it does not mean that they are in a gym “24/7/ with help” My question to DMG still remains unanswered…What gives you the right to slander these two deputies on your blog?

  13. Roger Rabbit

    Mr. Bogey: Cops are public officials, so are elected officials, there is case law that cops nor public officials cannot sue for comments. Your baiting technique is childish and cowardly behavior. You use words like slander, yet you have no problem accusing DMG with False and Misleading statements about what he said and what he meant.

    How about you answer your own question big boy, what gives you the right to accuse DMG of slander?

  14. Double Bogey

    DMG: You did not imply artifical means?? What the heck was the “With help” comment then? You admit to being an ex-gym rat and then you use the phrase that is used in gyms around the country for describing a person using steroids by gym rats and then try to back away from the statement…Man up and just admit it, you were implying that the two deputies were on steroids…in your opinion. The entire comment you made was very telling…you impy that two deputies are on roids and call the other one fat.

  15. David M. Greenwald

    It could be steroids. Most people would not be able to get that big on their own. Unless you see these guys, it’s hard to really have this conversation.

  16. Double Bogey

    I have seen all three. I do not share your opinion nor do I think that it is right to make such a statement about a person without one shred of evidence to back up your claim.

  17. Roger Rabbit

    Wow Bogey is an angry guy, so much anger over what he perceives as calling a third party fat or possibly using muscle enhancers. His anger makes it appear personal as if he is one of the guys being accused.

    He should have a coke and a smile. Notice he has no problem shouting his opinion but does not think anyone should be able to state their opinion.

    Hate to stereotype, but typical right-wing Reisig supporter behavior.

  18. Double Bogey

    Oh silly rabbit…Not angry, just disappointed that DMG would stoop so low in his attack on the deputies…I have had many discussions with him on this and other forums in the past and always respected the way he was able to articulate his views without having to resort to the childish name calling, etc.

    I read his comment and felt that it spoke volumes as to his mindset when it comes to law enforcement, especially the three deputies in this incident. When I posted my first comment it was you that became aggressive. My point remains unchanged…there is absolutely no evidence of steroid use by these deputies so why even bring it into the discussion?

    Your attempt to label me is laughable. One does not have to be right wing to be a supporter of law enforcement…I withheld my opinion on this shooting until the reports started to be released…everything I have read about this incident leads me to my opinion that the officers acted properly that day.

  19. David M. Greenwald

    “My point remains unchanged…there is absolutely no evidence of steroid use by these deputies so why even bring it into the discussion? “

    You’ve steadfastly avoided my question, I don’t think you can make that statement unless you have actually seen the deputies yourself. Again, I don’t know. I was blown away when I was in court and I saw how large the guys were and the crux of my point was not whether or not they did steroids, though it certainly entered my mind, but that if they had approached me and I did not know they were cops, I would probably have run as well.

  20. Double Bogey

    DMG: I apologize, I thought I did answer your question…I have seen all three deputies fairly recently. Bautista is a naturally big guy, I would not charachterize him as fat nor would I say that he spends any time in the gym…he is simply large framed man. Oviedo is about as middle of the road, physiqe wise, as any other person. I did not find him to be physically intimidating in any way and frankly, while he appears to be fit he certainly does not look like he spends too much time hitting the weights. Johnson, is the only one of the three who looks like he spends time in the gym, in my opinion. With that being said, he certainly did not posses any type of muscle mass that would lead me to assume that he uses steroids…he simply looks like a guy who works out hard…my point is that without any shred of evidence that steroid use is taking place you introduced it into the discussion and frankly I find it disappointing…As the owner and moderator of the blog I just think that you need to hold yourself to higher standard when it comes to posting inflammatory comments.

  21. David M. Greenwald

    DB: Thank you, I appreciate you taking the time to address my issue. I’m certainly not putting down heavy guys, I am one myself, but Bautista when I have seen him appears on the heavy side. Oviedo is a small guy but has huge shoulders and Johnson is just huge. Again, to clarify my comments the biggest point was that these guys are intimidating looking and out of uniform, if I did not know they were cops, I would run. The steroids question is there, but was intended to be secondary. It is a question that has come up in sports and given that, any time I see guys who are larger than usual, it is a question that comes to mind. You can consider that inflammatory I suppose, but the main point was really to get at the issue why would Gutierrez run and one reason is those guys may be scary looking.

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