Family awarded $2 million for fatal deputy-involved shooting of Azusa man in 2009

Efrain GutierrezLOS ANGELES — The family of a 31-year-old Azusa man fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy four years ago won a $2 million judgement this week in a wrongful death suit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Efrain Lara Gutierrez died at the scene of the shooting, which took place about 1 a.m. Oct. 2, 2009 near Renwick Road and Rockvale Avenue in an unincorporated county area just south of Azusa. He lived with his parents, Eva and Dionicio Gutierrez, at a nearby home.
“They feel like they obtained some justice on behalf of their son. It’s very emotional.” said Woodland Hills-based attorney Dale K. Galipo, who is representing the Gutierrez family.
The judgment came only two days before the fourth anniversary of Efrain Gutierrez’s death.
Sheriff’s officials have maintained that the deputy who fatally shot Efrain Gutierrez, identified in court documents as David Salazar of the sheriff’s San Dimas Station, fired his weapon out of fear for his safety. But Woodland Hills-based attorney Dale Galipo, who is representing the Gutierrez family, argued in a federal civil rights lawsuit that Efrain Gutierrez did not pose an immediate threat to the deputies when shot.
Sheriff’s officials said deputies confronted Efrain Gutierrez and tried to detain him and another man on suspicion of breaking into cars in the area.
When cornered, Gutierrez “lunged towards the deputy with a knife in his right hand,” officials from the Sheriff’s Headquarter’s Bureau said the day of the fatal shooting. “Fearing for his safety, the deputy fired several shots at suspect (Gutierrez), striking him.”
But Galipo said four key factors contradicted the sheriff’s version of events.
“We proved the distance was at least 28 feet when the first shots were fired,” the attorney said.
Gutierrez was shot five times, Galipo said. “The shots all had a back-to-front trajectory, with two shots in the back.”
Five shots were fired by the deputy, and all five struck Gutierrez, Galipo added. In addition to the two gunshot wounds to his back, he was shot in the shoulder, neck and side.
A 20-foot blood trail at the shooting scene led from the spot where Gutierrez was first shot toward a gate, Galipo said, indicating he was moving away from the deputy when shot, not toward the deputy as stated by the sheriff’s department.
And in Salazar’s depositions, Galipo said, the deputy testified that he saw an object in Gutierrez’s hand when he opened fire, but could not identify it.
A knife was recovered from the scene of the shooting, investigators said.
Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said the department strongly disagreed with the jury’s decision.
“We are right now preparing post-trial motions,” he said. “We’re also going to look at all the legal options, and they very well may include an appeal of this decision, which we disagree with entirely.”
“We stand behind our deputies and their actions,” Whitmore said.
Gutierrez, who was armed with a knife and had methamphetamine in his system posed a threat to both deputies and the public, he said.
“They did what they had to do,” Whitmore said. Not only were the deputies endangered by Gutierrez at the time of the shooting, “although this was a tragic result, and it is, they may have saved lives,” Whitmore said.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office reviewed the shooting and determined not to file any criminal charges against Salazar.
“We conclude that LASD Deputy David Salazar was placed in reasonable fear of imminent danger of death or great bodily injury by (Gutierrez’s) actions and acted lawfully in self-defense when he used deadly force,” Deputy District Attorney Amy Pellman Pentz wrote in the D.A.’s office findings. “We are therefore closing our file and will take no further action in this matter.”
Galipo acknowledged that Efrain Gutierrez had methamphetamine in his system, but said the amount of the drug found in his system was low.
The four-man, four-woman jury deliberated for a day and a half before unanimously deciding in favor of the Gutierrez family and awarding them $2 million in damages, Galipo said.
Gutierrez, who was unmarried and had no children, was working as a gardener at the time of his death, Galipo said.

PHOTO of Efrain Gutierrez courtesy of the Dale Galipo Law Offices

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Sheriff’s Pico Rivera Station celebrates 40 years of service

PICO RIVERA — Law enforcement officials from the past and present gathered Wednesday to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the sheriff’s Pico Rivera Station.
Sheriff’ Lee Baca was joined at the ceremony by other sheriff’s officials including station Capt. James Thornton Jr., who currently heads the station, as well as five past captains.
Attendees from all generations were invited to tour the station following the ceremony, “comparing its current state to the days of old,” Thornton said.
“This is like coming home,. This is a great place ot have worked,” said former captain Larry Anderson, who led the station from 1978 to 1980. “I just appreciate being a part of this family.”
Juan Rodriguez, who served at the station’s captain from 1997 to 2004, also shared fond memories of serving the people of Pico Rivera.
“I loved it,” he said. “I thought it was the best community where we could possibly work.”
“I miss it dearly,” he said. “I miss it every day. I love this station. I love this community and I’ll always treasure it from the bottom of my heart.”
Patrol cars from the station’s early days, including a 1970 Plymouth Fury and a 1978 Chevrolet Nova, were on display next to their modern counterparts
Sheriff Baca credited the current and former captains with making the sheriff’s Pico Rivera Station what it is today.
The station itself is only a building, he said.
“(The captains) are the ones who built the sheriff’s department’s legacy here,” Baca said.
He also commended city officials for their partnership with the sheriff’s department over the past four decades.
“What we’ve had is a great relationship that is built upon our city’s leadership,” the sheriff said. “We obviously enjoy working for this great city of Pico Rivera.
Baca added that after 40 years of service, the station was growing crowded and it planned to look into possibilities for expansion.

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Carson sheriff’s deputies aid Swedish family through tough time

SGT-L-SWEDISH20

CARSON — When deputies spotted a family of seven walking along Sepulveda Boulevard at 4:30 a.m. Friday, they suspected something wasn’t right.
After talking with family members, who spoke very little English, deputies learned they were visiting Southern California from Sweden for a family members graduation, but had been left homeless and penniless due to a family emergency, Los Angeles County sheriff’s spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said.
“They had a family emergency where they had to cut their trip short,” Nishida said. But the cost of re-booking an earlier flight used up all of the family’s money, leaving them stranded with no means to obtain food or shelter.
The family was comprised of a mother, father and five daughters, officials added. The children were a 2-year-old girl, two 10-year-old twin girls, a 14-year-old girl and a 17-year-old girl.
“Deputies were able to kind of talk to them with the limited English they do know,” Nishida said. The family was then taken to the sheriff’s Carson Station.
“We actually have a (reserve) sergeant who speaks Swedish who came out,” she added. The sheriff’s department has deputies speaking more than 100 languages.
After learning of their predicament, the deputies decided to circulate an email to try and raise funds to help the family.
They procured donations which were used to provide the family with hotel lodging, food and transportation to Los Angeles International Airport, where they boarded a Sweden-bound airplane Sunday, Nishida said.

PHOTO courtesy of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

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AP: Award made in suit over alleged LA deputy affair

LOS ANGELES — A jury has awarded more than $450,000 to a man who was investigated by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s detective he claimed was having an affair with his wife.
The Los Angeles Times says jurors ruled for Alberto Gutierrez Thursday in a civil rights lawsuit against Detective Phillip Solano and a sheriff’s deputy.
Gutierrez claimed Solano had an affair with his wife at the same time that he was investigating Solano for allegedly threatening the woman during a bitter custody battle. He also accused a sheriff’s deputy of a cover-up.
Gutierrez was twice arrested in 2008 on suspicion of violating a restraining order. He was acquitted of some criminal charges and others were dropped.
- From the Associated Press
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County law enforcement on ‘heightened alert’ following Colorado mass shooting

Though some law enforcement stations instructed officials to pay extra attention to movie theatres while on patrol in response to the mass shooting during a midnight showing of a new Batman movie in Colorado, police and sheriff’s officials in the San Gabriel Valley, Pasadena and Whittier areas largely operated as usual Friday.
Preliminary reports indicated that the shooter, who allegedly killed at least twelve and wounded dozens during a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, had no ties to any terrorist organization, according to the FBI.
“While the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado appears to be an isolated incident, our vigilance has been raised,” according to Capt. Mike Parker of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Headquarters Bureau. “The heightened alert of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department includes increased patrols to create a more visible presence at movie theaters and other places where people congregate.”
The sheriff’s department operates stations in Pico Rivera, Norwalk, Industry, Temple City, Walnut, San Dimas, Crescenta Valley and Altadena, among others throughout Los Angeles County.
In addition to extending condolences to the victims, their loved ones and first-responders affected by the shooting, Parker and other officials encouraged citizens to report any suspicious activity immediately.
“The greatest deterrent to crime is often a phone call to law enforcement by a person who sees something that just doesn’t look right,” the captain said.
Many San Gabriel Valley-area law enforcement officials said they were not particularly worried about any incidents at local movie theaters.
“It seems like such an isolated incident,” Pasadena Police Lt. Diego Torres said. “We don’t plan extra patrols at this point.”
But extra patrols may be added if appropriate, Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez said in a written statement.
“The Pasadena Police Department initiated proactive steps this morning by visiting movie theaters in our community to determine security level(s),” he added.
The Pasadena Police Department’s heightened diligence may include extra patrols and additional police presence as appropriate.
Torres added that as normal procedure, Pasadena police keep aware of the layouts of large gathering places, such as movie theaters, so they can quickly respond in the case of an emergency.
Police had similar views throughout the region.
“We’re actively listening and learning, just like everyone else,” Alhambra police Sgt. Sean Heckers said.
Additional patrols were not planned, he added.
“We don’t have anything that would cause us to do that,” Heckers said.
Movie theaters tend to be heavily patrolled by police officers and sheriff’s deputies in general, officials said.
“We do a pretty good job of patrolling these theaters,” West Covina police Sgt. Tony Cortina said. “We have a very high presence.”
Covina police officials said officers were advised during Friday morning’s briefing to keep an extra eye on local theaters, though no special patrol operations were planned.
Los Angeles police checked in on Hollywood movie theaters after learning of the Colorado shooting but found no security issues, Los Angeles Police officials said.
El Monte police were keeping in contact with the manager of the theater in that city to make sure everything was okay, Lt. Dan Burlingham said.
Though no special patrols were planned in West Covina, Cortina said, officers may may spend a little extra time making themselves visible near theaters, “just for the peace of mind of the public,” he said.
Pico Rivera sheriff’s Lt. John Kepley also said deputies tend to patrol the city’s movie theater, located on Whittier Boulevard, heavily.
A compliment of reserve deputies are assigned to the Pico Rivera Krikorian theater full-time, he said.
When it comes to the theater, “We try to be pro-active,” Kepley said. “We want it to be a family environment.”
Sgt. Cortina said that tragedies such as the one in Colorado serve as a somber reminder for patrol officers.
“We train for active shooter scenarios like these,” he said. “This freshens in (officers’) minds that things can happen like this anywhere at any given time.”

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Marina del Ray sheriff’s deputy suspected of child molestation

LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy has been arrested for investigation of committing lewd acts on a child.
Police say Deputy Oscar Rodriguez, a 10-year department veteran, was taken into custody Thursday.
He was immediately relieved of duty pending the outcome of criminal and administrative investigations.
Police say the alleged acts were committed while Rodriguez was off duty.
Rodriguez was assigned to the sheriff’s Marina del Rey station.
He’s being held on $100,000 bail.
- From the Associated Press
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Jail employee arrested on suspicion of dealing cocaine behind bars

On Monday, February 13, 2012, at approximately 7:30 P.M., members of the
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Internal Criminal
Investigations Bureau arrested a 24-year old employee named Remington
Orr, as he was preparing to enter Men’s Central Jail to distribute
cocaine.

Orr, employed as a Custody Assistant assigned to the Men’s Central
Jail, has been a Department member for four years. Monday’s arrest
culminated a four week Sheriff’s Department investigation into
allegations that Orr was bringing contraband to jail inmates in exchange
for monetary considerations. He was subsequently arrested for
Possession of a Controlled Substance with the Intent to Sell,
Transportation of a Controlled Substance with the Intent to Sell, and
Bribery.

Orr was booked into the Inmate Reception Center, and is being held in lieu of $1,000,000.00 bail.

- From LASD statement

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Former sheriff’s deputy admits taking bribes to smuggle contraband into jail

LOS ANGELES — The U.S. attorney’s office says a former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy will plead guilty to taking $20,000 in bribes to smuggle contraband into a downtown Los Angeles jail.
Federal prosecutors say that during an FBI sting, 38-year-old Gilbert Michel took cash in exchange for bringing a cell phone, cigarettes and a note into the Men’s Central Jail for delivery to an inmate.
He was charged Friday with bribery of a public official, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison. The U.S. attorney’s office says he agreed to plead guilty and will appear in court next week. He also agreed to cooperate in an ongoing investigation.
Michel resigned from the Sheriff’s Department last September.
– From the Associated Press
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UPDATE: Crime down throughout county, though murders up in some areas

LOS ANGELES COUNTY — Both violent crime and property crime were down in 2011 compared with the previous year, according to the Los Angeles Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, with sheriff’s stations in the San Gabriel Valley reporting even more significant decreases in crime rates.
Violent crime in Los Angeles County decreased by nearly 14 percent last year, according to preliminary statistics released Wednesday by the sheriff’s department. Property crimes investigated by the sheriff’s department decreased by just under 2 percent.
“Sheriff (Lee Baca) believes that the active policing that the sheriff’s deputies are doing, the 4,000 volunteers, and Crime Stoppers, which allows allows people to submit tips anonymously, all forges together a unified community to keep crime at historic lows,” sheriff’s department spokesman Steve Whitmore said.
“But we have to be ever vigilant as we move forward into the future,” he added.
But it isn’t all good news. At the sheriff’s Crescenta Valley, Norwalk, Pico Rivera, and Walnut-Diamond Bar station, incidents of the most serious of crimes — criminal homicide — were up significantly over the previous year. The sheriff’s Industry Station also showed a slight increase in homicides.
Homicides handled by the sheriff’s Norwalk Station more than doubled last year, when deputies investigated nine killings, up from four the previous year, according to the statistics.
At the Crescenta Valley and Walnut-Diamond Bar stations, murders both increased from one reported in 2010 to three reported last year, the data indicates.
The sheriff’s Pico Rivera Station saw criminal homicides increase from five in 2010 to seven in 2011, and the sheriff’s Industry Station saw an increase from seven in 2010 to eight last year.
The San Dimas and Temple stations reported significant decreases in murders, however. San Dimas detectives investigated one in 2011, compared with three the previous year, and Temple officials saw four killings in their jurisdiction, down from 10 the year before.
Sheriff’s officials reported that in 2010, the county saw it’s lowest homicide rate since 1965.
Whitmore said that although “one is too many” when it comes to homicides, the statistics must be viewed in perspective.
At the Norwalk Station, for example, where the increase of homicides exceeded 125 percent, the actual change of four to nine homicides last year represents five killings.
“We certainly are focused on those areas,” Whitmore said. “We’re aware of it, We know it’s a trend, and we’re going to deal with it.”
The number of homicide victims reported to the Norwalk Station doesn’t represent the number of fatal attacks, Sgt. Mark Guerrero of the sheriff’s Norwalk Station said.
In some cases, he said, multiple people were killed in the same incident, such as an August shooting that claimed the lives of both sheriff’s Explorer Scout Cesar Rodriguez, 19, and Larry Villegas, 24, as they were leaving a party in the 11800 block of Painter Avenue, in an unincorporated county area near Whittier.
In another case, Compton woman’s body was found buried in a vacant lot in Norwalk, while her husband’s body was found buried in Long Beach, officials said. It was unclear where the actual killings took place.
Gang violence and domestic disputes accounted for the bulk of the station’s homicides, Guerrero said.
Violent crime rates were down 17.4 percent at the Altadena Station; 21 percent at the Crescenta Valley Station; 7.1 percent at the Industry Station; 18.9 percent at the Norwalk Station; 10.4 percent at the Pico Rivera Station; 3.7 percent at the San Dimas Station; 10.6 percent at the Temple Station; and 11.5 percent at the Walnut-Diamond Bar Station, according to the report.
Reported property crimes were down 25.3 percent at the Altadena Station; 7.4 percent at the Crescenta Valley Station; 8.2 percent at the Industry Station; 1.7 percent at the Pico Rivera Station; 12.9 percent at the San Dimas Station; 10 percent at the Temple Station; and 8.7 percent at the Walnut-Diamond Bar Station, the data shows.
In the area, only the Norwalk Station showed an increase in property crimes of 8.3 percent.
Several key local trends were believed to be behind the increase in property crimes, Guerrero said.
Bicycle thefts had showed significant increases in 2011, along with the theft of third-row seats from SUVs and catalytic converters from cars, Guerrero said. In both instances, the sergeant advised using locks to secure the items when left unattended.
The theft of copper piping and wiring was also a significant problem for Norwalk deputies in 2011, he added.
Theft of items from cars — principally valuables left in plain view — were also on the rise in Norwalk last year, Guerrero said.
Elsewhere, major decreases in reports of auto theft at several area sheriff’s stations seemed to be helping drive down the property crime statistics.
Car thefts were down 36.1 percent at the Altadena Station; 22.2 percent at the Crescenta Valley Station; 27.5 percent at the San Dimas Station; 12.8 percent at the Temple Station; and 19.9 percent at the Walnut-Diamond Bar Station.
The sheriff’s Industry and Norwalk stations experienced slight increases in auto thefts.
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