The final moments of Luis Gutierrez's life have been dissected over and over.
Law enforcement investigators and federal, state and county prosecutors have all cleared the shooters of criminal culpability.
Even before a wrongful-death lawsuit was filed in 2010 in Sacramento federal court on behalf of Gutierrez's parents against Yolo County and three of its sheriff's deputies, the opposing counsel were sifting the evidence looking for an edge.
Now it's a jury's turn. Starting Wednesday, and for the next three weeks or so, attorneys will be presenting evidence and their own interpretations of it to the jurors. In the end, it will be those 10 people who will decide whether two of the deputies gunned down Gutierrez with no legal justification on the afternoon of April 30, 2009, on a highway overpass in Woodland.
Gutierrez, who was unknown to the deputies and had no criminal record other than traffic-related violations, was walking along Gum Avenue on his way home from the Department of Motor Vehicles.
An unmarked Ford Taurus with black glass occupied by the three deputies dressed in T-shirts and jeans pulled up next to him. Sgt. Dale Johnson, head of the Yolo County Gang Task Force, stepped out of the car to talk to Gutierrez, who took off running.
Johnson, who pulled his service handgun after Gutierrez stuck a hand in his right front pocket, and Deputy Hernan Oviedo, also with his handgun out, gave chase.
As Johnson closed on Gutierrez, he holstered his weapon and grabbed Gutierrez's shoulders, but Gutierrez stopped and twisted away.
He and Johnson wound up face to face, with Oviedo behind Gutierrez. Both deputies fired and Gutierrez fell dead.
He was 26, the eldest of five children of Jose and Irma Gutierrez, an agricultural tractor driver and a casino cook, respectively. Luis Gutierrez had been a farmworker, a forklift driver and a Walmart employee. At the time of his death, he was unemployed and was to see a farm superintendent about a job later that day.
Jose Gutierrez, 52, is described in court papers as a proud man who grieves silently for his son and, outwardly stoic, goes about family responsibilities.
Irma Gutierrez, 48, is said by her attorneys to have "feelings about her son's death that she can't adequately explain."
"I know that I no longer have him," she said in pretrial testimony. "They just took him away like that. I feel as if I also don't live. We haven't been able to overcome this."
The couple seek monetary damages in an unspecified amount for the loss of their son, plus punitive damages "in an amount sufficient to deter such conduct in the future."
While the couple and the deputies agree on a bare-bones outline of the fatal incident, the details are in sharp dispute.
Among the issues are:
Whether, after Johnson grabbed Gutierrez's shoulders, and with an officer in front of and behind him, the deputies had violated Gutierrez's Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable seizure.
Whether the location of the incident was a "high crime area" known for Latino gang activity. That, in addition to Gutierrez's "baggy" clothing and shaved head, raised a suspicion that he was a gangster, and it is the deputies' practice to stop and talk to gang members, they have said in pretrial testimony. Plaintiffs' attorneys insist the officers have no specific evidence that the area is gang territory, instead relying on generalized "war stories." The attorneys argue the deputies unlawfully profiled Gutierrez, intercepting him without any reason to believe there was criminal activity afoot.
Whether Gutierrez was under the influence of methamphetamine. A comparatively small amount was found in his system, although nothing about his behavior that day suggested it was affecting him.
Whether the officers adequately identified themselves. Johnson has testified that he lifted his shirt to display his gun and badge as he exited the car and Gutierrez looked at them before fleeing. The sergeant has also testified that he verbally identified himself at that time. Johnson and Oviedo say they yelled their identities while pursuing Gutierrez. Civilian witnesses will contradict that testimony, according to plaintiffs' attorneys.
Did Gutierrez know the occupants of the car were police officers, or did he run because he was scared of who they may have been? Their apparel was similar to Gutierrez's and the muscular Johnson who has since been promoted to lieutenant has tattoos on his biceps and triceps.
Perhaps the most important question for the jury is whether Gutierrez had an open pocketknife that he swung at Johnson before the officers discharged their weapons. A pocketknife was found near the scene with Gutierrez's DNA on it.
Finally, even if the answers to all these and other questions favor the deputies, were they justified in killing Gutierrez?
There is also the issue of the county's liability; whether a Sheriff's Department policy or practice led to unconstitutional conduct, and whether an inadequate or skewed internal investigation ratified such conduct.
A year and a half ago, when the subject of the shooting arose in the context of the U.S. Justice Department exonerating the deputies of criminal wrongdoing, Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto told a reporter: "As far as I'm concerned, the case is closed. I'm tired of talking about it."
His pronouncement appears to have been a bit premature at least as it relates to the civil trial and Prieto is probably not too happy to be on the defense's witness list.