The methamphetamine in a Woodland man's body when he was shot dead by a Yolo County sheriff's deputy could have made the man "violent and irrational" when faced with a stressful situation, a forensic toxicologist testified Thursday.
Three deputies on the scene when Luis Gutierrez was killed have testified that he fled when they tried to talk to him and, after a 50-yard chase, turned on Sgt. Dale Johnson with a knife and tried to slash him.
Thursday's testimony by Dr. Raymond Kelly was part of a defense strategy designed to convince a nine-member jury in Sacramento federal court that Johnson and Deputy Hernan Oviedo had no choice at that point but to fire their service weapons. One of Oviedo's two shots from his Glock 23 .40-caliber pistol hit Gutierrez in the back and killed him.
Gutierrez's parents claim their son's constitutional rights were trampled and are suing the county, Johnson, Oviedo and Deputy Hector Bautista, also at the scene but in the officers' car when the shooting occurred.
The deputies, members of the Yolo County Gang Task Force, were clad in T-shirts and jeans and cruising in an unmarked, black Ford Taurus with black glass when they spotted Gutierrez on the sidewalk of the Gum Street overpass above state Highway 113 in Woodland.
They testified they wanted to talk to him because he was a "Hispanic male" with a very short haircut, wearing baggy clothes and walking in an area where gang members are known to hang out.
Johnson testified that he verbally identified himself as a deputy and draped his shirt up over the gun at his waist when he stepped out of the car onto the sidewalk in front of Gutierrez, who put his hand in the right front pocket of his shorts and turned and sprinted away into traffic lanes.
The parents' attorneys rested their case Thursday, the eighth trial day, and Kelly was the first defense witness.
Kelly told the jury that both Gutierrez's blood and urine were subjected to toxicology tests. He said blood results showed "420 nanograms" of methamphetamine "per milliliter" of body fluid. A nanogram is one-billionth of a gram. Above 100 nanograms, he testified, is an "abuse level," as opposed to a "therapeutic level," and the Gutierrez measurement was "well into the abuse level."
The toxicologist placed the time methamphetamine was likely ingested by Gutierrez at between noon and 1:30 p.m. on the day of the incident, April 30, 2009.
The shooting took place shortly after 2 p.m., as the 26-year-old Mexican immigrant walked home from the Department of Motor Vehicles, where he had passed a driver's test for the renewal of his license.
"Later phase" symptoms of methamphetamine use, which kick in "an hour or two" after ingestion, are "irritability, hostility, aggression, and violence," Kelly testified.
Gutierrez's actions in fleeing from the officers and then attacking one of them "is consistent with the poor judgment and violent reaction" of many meth users in that phase, he said. By now, he added, the correlation between meth use and violence is "elementary pharmacology."
On the other hand, under questioning by defense attorney Bruce Kilday, Kelly said that amount of the drug "wouldn't necessarily make him act different under normal circumstances." But, he said, "a confrontational, stressful situation" could trigger an abnormally violent reaction.
Thus, Kelly said, even if Gutierrez had used meth before his visit to the DMV, the fact that his behavior while there was normal proves nothing.
On cross-examination by plaintiffs' attorney Paul Caputo, he said the urine results indicated the methamphetamine in Gutierrez's system was not derived from over-the-counter medication.
Caputo told the witness that the autopsy report noted there was methamphetamine in Gutierrez's blood, but there were "no external or internal signs of illegal drug use."
Kelly was derisive of that information, suggesting no such determination could be made via an autopsy.