Lindsey Fletes has lived in Woodland her whole life, but said she had never seen anything like the scene that unfolded before her on the afternoon of April 30, 2009.
As she watched, 26-year-old Luis Gutierrez was shot dead while being chased by a sheriff's sergeant she recognized.
"Everything was happening so fast," Fletes, who is 29 and a dental assistant, told a federal court jury Wednesday. "I was pretty overwhelmed by the situation."
She appeared uncomfortable recalling the incident, and was a reluctant witness who had to be subpoenaed by plaintiffs' lawyers in order to assure her appearance at the farmworker's wrongful-death trial. She gave short, mostly one-word answers, volunteering nothing.
But by the time she had finished Wednesday, her testimony dramatically contradicted the accounts of two Yolo County sheriff's deputies accused of violating the victim's constitutional rights and killing him without just cause.
Fletes testified that she had never been interviewed by anybody about what happened the day Gutierrez was shot until last year, when she was questioned by a private investigator working for the plaintiffs' attorneys.
She said that is the only time she has told her story before Wednesday.
Under oath, this is what Fletes said:
She was driving east on the Gum Avenue overpass above state Highway 113 when she noticed a black Ford Taurus behind her going east in the westbound lane of the two-lane street.
Still in the wrong lane, the car pulled to the curb and two men jumped out and began running at Gutierrez, who was walking east on the sidewalk adjacent to the westbound lane. She said there appeared to be nothing unusual about Gutierrez, who looked behind him and began to run from the two men.
Even though the pursuers were dressed in T-shirts and jeans and the car was unmarked, Fletes said she assumed it was police business because she recognized Yolo County sheriff's Sgt. Dale Johnson from a fitness center she frequented and knew he was a law enforcement officer.
Curious, Fletes said, she slowed down and eventually pulled to the curb and stopped.
She said Gutierrez ran 10 to 15 feet down the sidewalk, then veered into the street in front of her car. Johnson was hot on his heels, no more than 15 feet behind, with a gun in his hand, she said. At this point, she said, she did not see the other man who had alighted from the car.
"I heard one shot, but I don't know where it came from," Fletes told the jury. She said that just before Gutierrez reached the other side of the street he turned to face Johnson, then fell to the ground.
"I was told they had this under control and to move forward," Fletes recalled.
As she drove past the face-down Gutierrez, she said, she saw blood seeping onto the pavement.
"I wasn't about to second-guess him," she testified. "I knew he was a cop and I assumed he had a good reason for what he did."
Virtually every part of Fletes' testimony runs counter to the story told to the jury earlier by Johnson and the other pursuing officer, sheriff's Deputy Hernan Oviedo.
Johnson and Oviedo, along with the driver of the car, Hector Bautista, were Yolo County Gang Task Force members. Gutierrez was gunned down after running from Johnson.
The two deputies testified that, when they saw a "Hispanic male" wearing baggy clothes in a high-crime area frequented by gang members, they decided to stop and chat him up. But, Johnson testified, when he got out of the car, which he said was westbound in the proper lane, identified himself and said he wanted to talk, Gutierrez fled.
Johnson and Oviedo related that they gave chase and cornered Gutierrez, who, they testified, turned on Johnson and swung a knife at him. Both deputies testified they fired their handguns at Gutierrez.
The defense's theory is that Oviedo fired the fatal shot, a bullet that hit Gutierrez in the upper back and came out through his jaw.
The deputies testified that Gutierrez tossed the knife aside after he was shot. Collected at the scene was a folding knife favored by firefighters, which the plaintiffs' lawyers have hinted broadly was planted.
When Fletes was asked by plaintiffs' attorney Paul Caputo if there was a knife in Gutierrez's hand, she said, "Not that I can recall." Asked by Caputo whether Gutierrez made a threatening motion toward Johnson, she said, "Not that I can recall."
Fletes acknowledged on cross-examination by defense lawyer Amie McTavish that, while she doesn't recall seeing anything in Gutierrez's hand, "I wasn't paying attention to his hands."
Gutierrez's parents are suing the county and the three deputies for monetary damages, claiming their son's constitutional rights were violated when he was killed.
The Yolo County Sheriff's Department has stood behind the deputies. In February 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice cleared the deputies of criminal wrongdoing, coming to the same conclusion as the California attorney general's office and Yolo County District Attorney's Office.
The trial in the federal lawsuit enters its sixth day today.