Two lawyers gave a federal court jury their opposing spins Wednesday on the controversial death of a Woodland man at the hands of a Yolo County sheriff's deputy.
What they said is not evidence, but it was their chance to sway the panel after 10 days of trial.
The lawyers Paul Caputo, who represents the dead man's parents in the civil trial, and Bruce Kilday, the attorney for the defendants offered contrasting styles. Caputo was passionate, bending over the lectern and oozing incredulity at some of the positions taken by the defense.
Kilday was calm, collected, with virtually no body language. He presented his case in a matter-of-fact manner.
Caputo's clients are suing the county and three deputies, claiming the constitutional rights of Luis Gutierrez were violated when two of the deputies unlawfully detained him and then employed excessive force by shooting him.
Lt. Dale Johnson, who was a sergeant at the time of the incident, and Sgt. Hernan Oviedo, who was then a deputy, testified that they spotted Gutierrez on the afternoon of April 30, 2009. While he was unknown to them, the gang task force members said they wanted to talk to Gutierrez because of his appearance and the Woodland neighborhood he was in.
Johnson and Oviedo, with Deputy Hector Bautista at the wheel, were cruising in an unmarked black Ford Taurus with black glass, and dressed in T-shirts and jeans.
They testified that they suspected Gutierrez of criminal activity and they had a right to detain him when he stuck a hand in a pocket of his shorts and ran, even after Johnson identified himself and displayed his badge and gun. Johnson caught up with Gutierrez, but he pulled a folding knife and slashed at the sergeant, prompting Johnson and Oviedo to fire their Glock pistols at him, according to the officers' testimony. Oviedo, who was behind Gutierrez, hit him in the back with the fatal shot.
The Woodland man was 26 and was walking home from the Department of Motor Vehicles after passing a driver's test.
The officers intercepted him on the East Gum Avenue overpass above state Highway 113, two blocks from the trailer park where he lived with his parents and four siblings.
Johnson and Oviedo told the jury that, in using lethal force, they drew on the "totality of the circumstances" and their combined 28 years of experience and training.
But Caputo told the jury the deputies had no legal right to detain Gutierrez because they had no reasonable suspicion he was involved in a specific crime.
"To me, it's so crystal clear, especially after reading the law," he said. "It's not what these guys were taught. It's the law. Obviously, they were taught wrong."
And, Caputo argued, even if Gutierrez had a knife Caputo and his co-counsel Robert Burchfiel maintain he did not Johnson and Oviedo overreacted.
"Did he really see (Johnson's) badge?" Caputo asked the jury rhetorically. "What did he (Gutierrez) see? A gun, probably, on a guy who suddenly approached him on a bridge in a confrontational manner.
"What's a reasonably prudent pedestrian supposed to think? Don't leave your common sense behind," he urged the panel.
He also accused the deputies of giving different accounts when they were interviewed by police following the incident, later when they gave pretrial testimony under oath, and then again at the trial.
"Please!" Caputo implored the jurors. "I've lived this for 3 1/2 years and I've seen an evolution of testimony. It's not right."
Kilday countered that the plaintiffs' attorneys have tried to bestow importance on minor discrepancies among the deputies' accounts and between one interrogation and another.
He said witnesses invariably give different accounts of an event, and a lapse of time dims memories for details.
"Mr. Gutierrez's decisions dictated the course of this event," Kilday said. "It was Mr. Gutierrez who ran. It was Mr. Gutierrez who pulled a knife."
He also recalled a forensic toxicologist's testimony that Gutierrez had an "abuse level" of methamphetamine in his system, with the potential to "create suspicion and paranoia and promote irrational behavior."
He further cited the testimony of a supervisor at the state Department of Justice crime lab who said that testing of DNA found on the handle of a knife collected at the scene was unable to exclude Gutierrez as having handled it.
"There really is not a middle ground for you," Kilday assured the jurors. "You can't apply 20/20 hindsight. I believe you will conclude the officers did act reasonably and Mr. Gutierrez's own actions caused this tragic result."
The jury will return Monday, receive instructions on the law from U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton, and begin deliberations.
Before the trial's adjournment Tuesday, the panel was pared from nine to seven. Karlton excused two women, one to go on a long-planned vacation and the other to attend a job-related conference.
That leaves six women and one man to decide whether Gutierrez was gunned down without legal justification. A unanimous decision is required for a verdict in a civil trial with a seven-member jury.