By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – Jurors in the Sacramento County Superior Court trial of Felipe DeJesus Gonzalez-Gutierrez were candid about why they voted to convict the Galt resident of misdemeanor battery on a peace officer and resisting arrest this past week.
They said, simply, that there was no real evidence to contradict the stories told by Sheriff deputies.
Thursday, Gonzalez-Gutierrez was sentenced to 90 days in Sacramento County Jail, with 30 days suspended, by Judge Kristina Lindquist – but it could have been a lot worse.
He could have been sentenced to much more jail time. Or even shot dead by deputies.
The four jurors – part of a seven woman, five man jury – told Sacramento County Assistant Public Defender Audrey Kyan they had their doubts about what happened on that cold, rainy night in March of 2019.
But, other than the testimony of two Sacramento County Sheriff Deputies, they said they had little else to go on when deciding the fate of Gonzalez-Gutierrez. The Sheriff’s Dept. doesn’t use body cameras, and the vehicle camera was pointed away from the area where the three men tussled. Some audio could be heard, but not much.
Kyan even addressed that at closing, noting that “we all watch the news…cameras are turned away so we can’t see anything,” alluding to police shootings of unarmed suspects, especially people of color.
Still, the four jurors insisted that their doubts needed information to clear the defendant. The defense rested without calling any witnesses, and Gonzalez-Gutierrez chose not to testify.
And, there were puzzling aspects to the case that were revealed in the two-day trial. Even the closing arguments were curious – the judge allowed a BB gun that deputies insisted looked like an assault weapon to be positioned within feet of the juror box.
The facts of the case outlined how two deputies were called to the Galt location for a “welfare check” – not on Gonzalez-Gutierrez but for a neighbor who allegedly had heard “grunting” sounds, and “firecrackers.”
The deputies said they never really did that “welfare check.” They were distracted by Gonzalez-Gutierrez.
What deputies found – at a nearby property – was Gonzalez-Gutierrez near the gate to his home. He told deputies that he had farm animals, which might explain the “grunting” sounds. He also said he had used a BB gun, which was legal, to scare away coyotes from his farm animals. That would explain the firecracker sounds.
The deputies could have left, but noticed the weapon leaning, about 20 feet away, against Gonzalez-Gutierrez’s house. And the deputies said they feared it could have been an assault weapon, specifically an M-16. When they asked Gonzalez-Gutierrez to let them in the gate to inspect the weapon, he wouldn’t.
There was no warrant, and they were only there for a welfare check for another address, said public defender Kyan.
The deputies insisted, drew weapons when Gonzalez-Gutierrez started to retrieve the BB gun, and eventually used bolt cutters to cut the lock and enter the property, and detain and arrest Gonzalez-Gutierrez.
But not without a struggle.
“Deputies struck (Gonzalez-Gutierrez) in the face, kneed him in his stomach and face,” charged Kyan, who insisted in her closing arguments that it was an unlawful entry and unlawful arrest.
Sheriff’s deputy Daniel Holden said Gonzalez-Gutierrez was “acting erratically, bounced all over the place” and responded slowly to commands the deputies gave him, although it was clear at trial that Gonzalez-Gutierrez speaks and understands little English – a court appointed interpreter had to explain all that was going on in the courtroom to him.
Holden testified that it was the gun that caused his concern because “it had a stock similar to a M-16, and a pistol grip and long range scope…my main concern was the rifle. I wanted to make sure everyone on the property was safe.”
Gonzalez-Gutierrez, when he wasn’t allowed to reach for the weapon to show it to the deputies, said he’d let them on his property if they left their guns outside, the deputies both said. They refused.
But when Holden cut the lock on the gate, and then attempted to “detain” Gonzalez-Gutierrez, Holden was struck in the face. That led Holden, by his own admission, to respond by “punching (Gonzalez-Gutierrez) twice in the face” and “kneeing him in the stomach and the face.”
The faint audio on the vehicle camera did pick up Gonzalez-Gutierrez crying in pain and for help when he was dragged to the ground. His face was badly cut, and he had a cut lip, Kyan said.
Sean Corbillo, the another SSD deputy, confirmed Holden’s story that Gonzalez-Gutierrez was “nonsensical,” and when the defendant tried to get the BB gun for the deputies, “I said if he reached for the gun I’d shoot him,” said the deputy.
Deputies also said that although they believed Gonzalez-Gutierrez was under the influence “of something,” but they did not administer any alcohol or drug tests on him and they did tell “dispatch” that no crimes were committed,” said Kyan.
In her closing argument, Deputy District Attorney Toni Linarez, described Gonzalez-Gutierrez as “incoherent, unpredictable, uncooperative and unpredictable” as he reached for an assault rifle to show deputies it was only a BB gun.
“We can Monday morning quarterback all day long; a deputy has split seconds to respond,” Linarez said in defense of the actions by the deputies.
“The defendant willfully resisted. The deputies just wanted to make sure that (people) were safe. They were doing their duty to protect. They had no intention of wrestling with defendant. He hit deputy Holden with balled up fist. Their response wasn’t unreasonable or excessive,” she maintained.
“It was a warrantless invasion of the defendant’s privacy. A man’s home is his castle,” Kyan eloquently argued in her closing argument.
“It’s one of the oldest principles of our laws. We want to feel safe in our home. We’d like to be protected from weather and the government. Deputies violated that. They entered his home without cause, and violently arrested him without cause
“He was held at gunpoint, they threatened to shoot, ordered him to open the gate or they’d break it down. There were two guys rushing at him with guns,” she said, noting that if anything, the defendant acted in “self-defense.”
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