Pubdate: Sat, 30 Mar 2002
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2002 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Herbert A. Sample, Bee San Francisco Bureau
Bookmark: (Corruption)
Bookmark: (Drug Raids)


OAKLAND -- Just weeks before three Oakland police officers are to stand 
trial on charges ranging from writing false police reports to assault, a 
decorated narcotics detective reportedly is on the verge of being fired for 
lying on his reports.

News of the apparently imminent termination of Detective John Gutierrez, 
who was named Oakland officer of the year in 2001, has sent defense lawyers 
combing through their files in search of cases that involved Gutierrez.

Already, an undisclosed number of cases involving Gutierrez have been 
dropped by the Alameda County district attorney, including one against an 
Antioch couple that Gutierrez recently arrested with two children and 
allegedly 19 kilos of cocaine in their car.

Gutierrez's troubles also threaten the federal drug case against a Richmond 
man whose three pit bulls, in an unrelated incident last June, mauled a 
then-10-year-old boy nearly to death. The arrest in August of Benjamin 
Moore, which Gutierrez spearheaded, brought some relief to a public fuming 
that the dog's owner was facing only misdemeanor charges as a result of the 
mauling episode.

Word of Gutierrez's likely firing comes after years of allegations of 
police misconduct and lax oversight here. While Mayor Jerry Brown was 
overwhelmingly re-elected earlier this month, he fared poorly in African 
American neighborhoods, where complaints of police abuse are frequent.

The local branch of the NAACP is conducting forums to compile reports about 
police wrongdoing in hopes of spurring reforms. At one such meeting on 
Thursday, several residents charged that Oakland officers had verbally or 
physically abused them and had written false reports to mask their conduct.

And the trial of three of four "Riders," the nickname for a group of police 
officers who patrolled West Oakland, is to begin in late April in Oakland 
Superior Court. The fourth officer is believed to have fled the country. 
More than 80 convictions -- mostly for drug offenses -- that involved the 
officers have been overturned.

Officials at the Oakland Police Department and City Attorney's Office are 
publicly disclosing no details about the investigation into Gutierrez and 
Devin Underwood, another officer who reportedly faces termination. A police 
spokesman cited state law, which sharply restricts what can be revealed 
about police personnel matters.

Richard Word, a veteran Oakland officer who became police chief in 1999, 
said in an interview that the inquiry into "serious allegations" continues.

"We don't tolerate any form of misconduct," said Word, himself a former 
narcotics officer who knows Gutierrez personally. "I don't care how 
productive an officer is. It doesn't matter. You can't abuse your 
authority. You can't abuse others."

Rocky Lucia, the lawyer for Gutierrez, was unavailable for comment.

Blair Thomas, the deputy district attorney who oversees major narcotics 
cases of the type Gutierrez handled, said, "It's pretty clear that a lot of 
things are happening at the moment, and until there are certain results, 
that's all I can say."

John Burris, a defense attorney representing 110 plaintiffs in a federal 
civil rights lawsuit against 20 officers and Police Chief Word for alleged 
abuse at the hands of the Riders, said the Gutierrez matter could have 
wider ramifications because Gutierrez usually locked up major players in 
the local drug trade. "Big drug dealers could have their ... convictions 
jeopardized or set aside," Burris said. "I do believe from the defense 
perspective that this is the tip of the iceberg."

But another local lawyer who regularly handles drug cases said the 
Gutierrez inquiry may be a sign of reform in the department.

"Many years ago, nothing would have happened" to Gutierrez, said C. Don 
Clay. "He probably would have gotten ... a slap on the wrist. But now, 
people are under a very strict scrutiny."

Gutierrez, 44, now on administrative leave pending the results of the 
investigation, is well known in local police and legal circles. Often 
called "Johnny" or "Johnny G.," the 22-year veteran played a lead role in a 
number of major busts over the years. He won a medal of merit in 2000 for 
seizing 80 kilograms of cocaine valued at more than $1 million.

He also was named officer of the year in 2001, an award that results from a 
collaborative selection process of the Police Department and the Oakland 
Police Officers Association.

He worked in the department's narcotics unit, housed in the same Oakland 
office as the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

But there have been hints of trouble in the past as well. In 1999, for 
example, an Alameda Superior Court judge criticized discrepancies between 
the testimony of Gutierrez and that of another officer.

"I am unfortunately led to the conclusion that Officer Gutierrez's 
testimony has been seriously -- his credibility has been seriously called 
into question," said Judge Brenda Harbin-Forte, who dismissed the case. The 
judge's comments were included in a motion filed in December by Benjamin 
Moore's attorneys that questioned Gutierrez's actions in that case.

It was Gutierrez's affidavit, which largely turned on statements from his 
informant, that led to the arrest of Moore and his girlfriend, Jacinda 
Knight, and searches of Moore's home and car and the home of Knight's 
mother. Prosecutors refuse to name the informant, citing concern for his 

After the arrests, federal prosecutors accepted the case, and Moore remains 
in custody on charges of conspiracy and possession with intent to 
distribute cocaine. Lawyers for Moore and Knight have questioned 
Gutierrez's credibility in legal motions but so far have been unable to 
persuade a judge to identify the informant or to unseal more of the affidavit.

Shana Keating, Knight's lawyer, said she grew suspicious of Gutierrez after 
reviewing limited portions of the affidavit, which she said included an 
unusually specific description of Knight by the informant, including 
hairstyle. She said the description matched the picture and information 
contained on Knight's driver's license, which was 10 years old and which is 
available to police officers.

"It led me to believe that Johnny Gutierrez was lying and had not gotten 
that information from an informant ... and (had) lied to a judge" to get 
the search and arrest warrants, said Keating. She said she is reviewing 
every affidavit Gutierrez filed in the last three years, "looking for 
patterns of dishonesty."

Keating and Moore's lawyer recently requested Gutierrez's entire personnel 
file, citing the investigation into misconduct by the officer, "including 
lying on police reports." A hearing is set for mid-April. A spokesman for 
the U.S. attorney's office in Oakland refused comment.

It is unclear to what degree the Gutierrez matter will affect the Riders 
case. The prosecutor and a lawyer representing one of the officers on trial 
said the most immediate effect could be on the defendants' change-of-venue 
motion, to be decided in about two weeks.

"I certainly don't think it's positive in terms of remaining in Alameda 
(County) for trial," said William Rapoport, the attorney for Officer Jude 
Siapno. "It's just one more case of notoriety relating to police 
misconduct, and that has an ability to sway public opinion generally, which 
may impact our case."

Siapno and Officers Matthew Hornung and Clarence Mabanag have pleaded not 
guilty to their individual charges, including assault under color of 
authority and filing false reports.

The fourth officer, Francisco Vasquez, has disappeared. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom