Thursday, January 23, 2014 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco, CA — An anxious young father who chased after a taxi while seeking information about his sick child has been cleared of a slew of felonies that threatened to send him to prison for more than 10 years, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
After deliberating less than two days, a jury on Wednesday afternoon acquitted Luis Gutierrez, 22, of four counts of assault with a deadly weapon (truck), each with a special allegation of use of a deadly weapon; four counts of felony false imprisonment and one count of felony vandalism.
The jury convicted Gutierrez of four counts of misdemeanor false imprisonment and one misdemeanor count of driving without a license. Gutierrez, who had been in jail since his Oct. 20, 2012 arrest, was released on his own recognizance Wednesday.
“The jury rejected every charge that had anything to do with violence,” said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Steven Gayle.
Gutierrez, a South San Francisco construction worker with no criminal history, shared custody of his 4-year-old son with his former girlfriend. The day of the incident, Gutierrez’s former girlfriend was caring for the boy, who had been ill.
Gutierrez, who was concerned about his son’s health, tried to reach his former girlfriend numerous times Oct. 19 and 20 to check on the boy’s condition, but the young woman was clubbing and did not answer her phone.
A worried Gutierrez then drove to his former girlfriend’s residence in Visitacion Valley where she lived with her mother. The residence was empty and the lights were off.
Gutierrez, who had no knowledge that the boy’s grandmother had taken him to Manteca, began to panic. He waited on the sidewalk until 2 a.m., when his former girlfriend arrived with two friends and exited a cab. Upon seeing Gutierrez, she quickly got back into the taxi, which fled. Gutierrez then jumped into his truck and began to look for the vehicle, spotting it several blocks away. Gutierrez exited his truck and stood in front of the cab, which maneuvered around him as he pleaded to talk to his son’s mother.
Gutierrez then parked in the intersection the cab was about to enter at Sunnydale Avenue and Hahn Street, resulting in a fender-bender that damaged the taxi’s right rear quarter-panel.
While prosecutors argued that Gutierrez tried to hurt his former girlfriend and the other occupants by intentionally backing into the cab, that claim was disproved by surveillance footage showing the cab driver scraping Gutierrez’s truck with his front bumper while attempting to turn behind the vehicle.
Nobody was injured in the accident, and Gutierrez was arrested less than an hour later by South San Francisco police.
The taxi driver took the stand during the trial, describing Gutierrez’s expression as “peaceful but puzzled” when he saw his former girlfriend get back into the cab. The driver testified that Gutierrez did not look threatening or angry when standing in front of the cab and appeared to be trying to talk to the woman inside.
“From the video footage and testimony, it became clear to the jury that Mr. Gutierrez wasn’t trying to do anything besides find out information about his son,” Gayle said.
Adachi said the case was over-charged by prosecutors.
“Mr. Gutierrez was an anxious dad who didn’t hurt anyone,” Adachi said. “It is outrageous that this father with no criminal history has been in jail for the past three months on charges that could have sent him to state prison.”