SACRAMENTO, Calif. – On February 14th, the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department announced the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) had cleared three of its “gang-suppression unit” deputies of civil rights violations in the fatal shooting of Luis Gutierrez in April 2009.
On February 18th, a group of organizations, led by the Yolo Justice Coalition and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) held a press conference at the Robert Matsui Federal Courthouse in Sacramento to criticize the DOJ’s conclusion.
On April 30, 2009, Luis Gutierrez was walking home from the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Woodland, California, where he had just passed the written test for a driver’s license, when he was accosted by the three deputies, who were wearing clothing that looked like gang apparel and driving an unmarked car.
According to witnesses, Gutierrez ran from them, and was shot in the back and killed.
The Sheriff’s Department later stated that Gutierrez was a known gang member, was high on meth and had attacked the deputies with a knife. However such claims were later contradicted by witnesses who saw the shooting, and others who had just interacted with him before the shooting.
Among the questions raised by Al Rojas, Sacramento LCLAA vice-president, speaking for the Coalition were: Why did the DOJ never interview the Gutierrez family or witnesses of the shooting? Where is the DOJ investigative report? Why have the three deputies never been asked to testify under oath? Since the DOJ verdict was based on reviewing an investigative report by the Woodland Police and the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department, why has that report never been published?
Rojas said it was the Yolo Justice Coalition that requested a DOJ investigation in June of 2009, but the coalition never got a response to their letter, nor were they identified in the DOJ letter as the source of the civil rights complaint that sparked the review.
Speaking in Spanish, with Rojas acting as interpreter, Jose Santos Gutierrez, Luis Gutierrez’ father, repeated that the family had never been interviewed. “I expected justice, but there was no justice,” he told the group.
“We don’t accept this conclusion. We will meet with (recently-elected California State Attorney) Kamala Harris to ask for a thorough independent investigation. If necessary, we will send a delegation to Washington,” Rojas declared.
Photo: Jose Santos Gutierrez, father of slain Luis Gutierrez, by Marcos Cardenas.