Aurora man sues cops for alleged excessive force during traffic stop

A man with a salt-and-pepper goatee wearing a black coat and tie stands in front of a brown lowrider car.

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George “Chicano” Gutierrez stands in front of his brown Lincoln lowrider after a rally outside the Kane County Courthouse. Gutierrez filed a lawsuit last year alleging two Aurora police officers used excessive force against him.

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AURORA, Ill. — An Aurora man is suing the city and two police officers for an allegedly violent run-in with law enforcement that started with a simple traffic stop.

George Gutierrez was driving to his sister’s house in Aurora on April 26, 2020, when he was stopped for a minor traffic violation, according to police records and a lawsuit that he filed last year in federal court.

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The suit alleges that the police pulled him over under the pretext of a minor traffic violation, extended what should have been a routine stop after learning about his criminal background, and then used excessive force while arresting him.

An attorney representing the city disputed Gutierrez’s claims in an interview with Injustice Watch and said the officers involved in the incident thought that they were in danger. And a spokesperson for the Aurora Police Department said the officers’ conduct in the incident complied with the department’s use of force policy.

But the organizers and residents in Aurora who have rallied around Gutierrez say his case illustrates how some cops in the department leverage minor traffic violations to stop and search Latinx and Black motorists and how those encounters with police can endanger community members.

In Aurora, a west suburb of Chicago and Illinois’ second largest city, police stop Latinx and Black motorists at disproportionate rates compared to white drivers. Illinois Department of Transportation data from 2020, the latest year available, shows that Aurora police stopped Latinx drivers at nine times the rate of white drivers and stopped Black drivers at 11.5 times the rate of white drivers.

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Gutierrez said he hopes that his case draws more attention to the culture of the Aurora police department and how it has to change.

“It’s not the individual officers, it’s the whole department itself,” he said. “They’re allowing these types of things to happen.”

Eight stops by Aurora police in two years

Gutierrez, who goes by the nickname “Chicano,” is the owner of Chicano Times, a business that sells merchandise celebrating Mexican culture and puts on promotional events for local businesses and artists.

He said he thinks that he is being profiled and harassed by the Aurora Police Department because he is a Latino who drives a lowrider car and because of his criminal background.

Gutierrez served about 23-and-a-half years in prison for a 1993 shooting that killed 23-year-old Christopher Renteria. Gutierrez was behind the wheel of a car with three passengers when one of them shot and killed Renteria, who was part of a rival gang, according to Gutierrez and news reports. Gutierrez, who was 20 years old, didn’t fire any shots. But he was convicted of first-degree murder under Illinois’ accountability law and sentenced to 45 years in prison, according to court records.

Gutierrez, now 48, said he has been trying to make a positive impact in his community since his release from prison in 2017. But he said he regularly gets pulled over for minor traffic violations. In 2020 and 2021, department records show that Gutierrez was pulled over at least eight times by Aurora police. Officers wrote Gutierrez tickets in three of those stops, but two of the citations were dismissed in court, according to court documents. He received verbal warnings in the other five.

Injustice Watch obtained dashcam and cellphone video footage of the April 2020 stop that spurred his lawsuit against the city. The dashcam video shows officer Matthew Meyers driving down South Lake Street on Aurora’s West Side at 10:30 p.m., beside Gutierrez’s lowrider, a light brown 1997 Lincoln Town Car. After Gutierrez turns right on Jericho Road, the officer makes a right turn from the left lane to follow him. Gutierrez, who was driving to his sister’s house, uses his left turn signal as he turns onto the street where she lives. Meyers turns on the same street, flashes the lights on his patrol car, and pulls Gutierrez over in his sister’s driveway.

In the video, Meyers can be heard telling Gutierrez that he stopped him for allegedly not using his turn signal 100 feet before turning onto the street. Meyers returns to his patrol car and provides Gutierrez’s name and license plate to a dispatcher. When another officer arrives at the scene, Meyers tells him that Gutierrez, who completed the terms of his parole in 2019, is a “registered violent offender,” and that he is going to “talk to him.” Meyers exits his vehicle again and asks Gutierrez to step out of his car, according to the video.

Gutierrez repeatedly refuses to get out of the car and says he will only get out if a police supervisor is present.

“Officers can order anyone in and out of a vehicle whenever they want,” Meyers says in the video. He repeatedly asks Gutierrez why he is nervous and threatens to arrest the civilian for obstructing an officer if he doesn’t exit the car.

After about six minutes of back-and-forth, Meyers reaches inside the car. The cellphone video, which was taken by Gutierrez’s niece, shows Gutierrez partially raise his car window. Meyers pulls on the window and breaks the glass, then opens the car door from the inside. He and another cop, identified in police records as officer Cory McCue, pull Gutierrez out of the car.

The cellphone video shows McCue slamming Gutierrez’s head on a parked van as he pulls him out of the car. Gutierrez was diagnosed with a concussion after the incident, according to medical records he shared with Injustice Watch.

Meyers and McCue are named as defendants in Gutierrez’s lawsuit. The cops didn’t take Gutierrez into custody, but he still faced charges in Kane County court for failing to use a turn signal, driving with tinted windows, and for obstruction of a police officer.

Kane County prosecutors alleged that Gutierrez signaled 87 feet before turning, which was 13 feet too late and in violation of traffic laws, and argued that Meyers feared for his safety during the stop and had the right to ask Gutierrez to step out of the vehicle. Judge Reginald Campbell found him guilty in January on all three charges. Obstruction of a police officer, a class A misdemeanor, carries up to one year in jail. In announcing his decision, Campbell said it was a close call because both Gutierrez and Meyers had reason to fear for their safety. But ultimately, he said, the officer had the right to ask Gutierrez to step out of the car, and Gutierrez was obligated to comply.

Gutierrez filed a motion Feb. 18 asking Campbell to vacate his judgment. Campbell postponed sentencing in the case until April, to give prosecutors time to respond to the motion. Gutierrez said if the motion fails, he plans to appeal his conviction, and that the court’s ruling won’t stop him from pursuing his lawsuit against Aurora, Meyers, and McCue.

‘A culture of violence’

A group of people wearing winter coats and masks standing outside. One of them has a sign that says

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Activists hold signs at a rally outside the Kane County Courthouse in support of George “Chicano” Gutierrez.

Cristobal Cavazos, a community organizer at Immigrant Solidarity DuPage, said Gutierrez’s case highlights how Latinx and Black residents in Aurora face racial profiling and other abuse from police.

“It’s a culture of violence that they have of escalating these issues here when they should be de-escalating, of provoking, when they should be calming,” Cavazos said.

Cavazos said Gutierrez paid for the crime that he committed as a young man and is now making a positive impact in his community. He plans community events, such as neighborhood cleanups and lowrider showcases, and works to raise awareness about issues that affect the Latinx community.

Do you have a story to tell about Aurora Police? Call or text 331-704-0868“I really think he’s a remarkable person [who shows] what you can do in spite of society trying to pigeonhole you,” Cavazos said.

In addition to running Chicano Times, Gutierrez volunteers at the A-Town Boxing Club, where he trains and mentors Aurora youths.

Gutierrez said he is suing Aurora to raise awareness about policing issues, not because he wants money to compensate him for his ordeal. Instead, he said, he wants the city to agree to a public forum between the community and the police department that addresses police misconduct in Aurora. The lawsuit is still in the discovery phase, and any trial or settlement could be months away, his attorney said.

While city leaders have pledged to improve police accountability, Gutierrez said their words ring hollow because officers have not been held accountable for the harm that they have inflicted on Aurora residents.

“They’re not allowing [the community] to move forward,” he said.

This article was produced in partnership with Report for America.

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