Lois Henry

Saturday, Mar 15 2014 09:00 PM

LOIS HENRY: U-turn sets two men on collision course

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    Californian columnist Lois Henry

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Daniel Raue, 79, lives in Bakersfield.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Daniel Raue, 79, lives in Bakersfield.

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By Lois Henry

Daniel Raue is no saint. He's a 79-year-old man who's led a colorful life. And he has a mouth that can run a major blue streak, I'm told.

Even so, he sure as heck didn't deserve to be laid out as he walked down the sidewalk at F and 21st streets this past Valentine's Day.

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The shove sent him flying backward, according to an eyewitness. His head hit the concrete so hard the thud could be heard from inside a nearby office building.

That was bad enough. But the actions -- or inactions -- of Bakersfield police officers are even more concerning to me.

Here's the basic story.

Raue was walking north on F Street carrying bags of groceries. As he crossed 21st Street, James Gutcher, turned off of F heading east onto 21st and nearly hit Raue.

Both men hollered some choice words at one another and Gutcher drove on.

Then he flipped a U and got out of his car, approaching Raue on the sidewalk.

Gutcher reportedly shoved Raue so hard, he hit the ground and was knocked out.

Raue was taken to Mercy Hospital where his injuries were deemed non life threatening, according to the BPD.

The cops were called. An eyewitness pointed out Gutcher and said he had attacked Raue.

But the cops didn't arrest Gutcher. They didn't even cite him. Nothing.

In fact, the case was about to be closed a few days later until Raue's son, Matt Raue, stepped in and demanded something be done.

Uh....whaaaat?

When I contacted the BPD, I was told it wasn't as black and white as it may appear.

Officers only had one witness statement. Raue himself was confused, saying at first he thought two black guys had jumped him from behind, which officers knew wasn't true. And Raue had participated in the verbal altercation that preceded the incident.

"The officers were gauging whether this rose to the level of a felony," explained Sgt. Joe Grubbs.

If it's not an obvious felony, he said, then it would be a misdemeanor that did not occur in the officers' presence. In that case, they would need Raue to say he wanted to press charges, essentially initiating a citizen's arrest, which the cops would then accept, meaning they'd haul Gutcher to jail.

"Officers asked Mr. Raue if he wanted to do anything and he said no," Grubbs said. "We can't make someone be a victim."

Uh huh. Couple of things.

Raue is an elderly man who just got conked on the noggin. By the officers' own report, he clearly didn't know what had just happened to him.

"I was in la la land," confirmed Daniel Raue. "They kept asking if I wanted to press charges and I kept thinking, 'How'd I get on the curb?'"

If he said "no" to pressing charges, which Raue disputes, officers should have taken his lack of lucidity into account.

Which brings us to the second, and most important, factor -- the eyewitness An eyewitness Grubbs acknowledged was "very good" who saw and heard the whole thing.

She said Gutcher approached and attacked Raue. She told the officers she heard Gutcher scream at Raue and watched as he sent Raue flying backward with a shove.

In a case where your victim is loopy and you have an excellent eyewitness giving you the blow-by-blow, why wouldn't you make an arrest and let the District Attorney's office decide whether it's a felony?

That's sort of what's happening now, finally.

Because of Matt Raue's intervention, the case was not closed. It was sent to a detective who felt it was a felony matter and forwarded it to the DA. It was sent back a couple of times for more information and is now back to the DA, which is deciding whether to file misdemeanor or felony charges.

"But we do plan on filing charges," Deputy District Attorney Dave Ingram assured me several times.

For the DA, I suppose I can kind of understand why a case like this could be a "tweener" (codes, case law, the suspect's record, victim's injuries, etc., all factor in).

But I don't agree that it was so vague for the BPD, certainly not enough to have initially wanted to close the case.

And, frankly, I have to wonder if this had happened to a clean-shaven, neatly dressed elderly man in, say, Haggin Oaks, whether law enforcement's initial reaction would have been the same.

The heavily bearded, gray-haired Raue, by comparison, fits right in to the downtown peoplescape, with his rumpled clothing, hipster hat and large dark glasses. Not to mention the tell-tale scent of a heavy smoker.

Meanwhile, Gutcher, a prominent member of the real estate community, was professionally dressed, according to witnesses.

Yes, Grubbs allowed, assumptions can be an issue when dealing with a vast array of people on a daily basis. Officers are, after all, human beings, he said.

But he reminded me that neither of us was there and oftentimes facts are far more murky in the midst of an event than they can appear later.

Not to Marissa Salinas, the eyewitness.

For her, the facts were, and are, crystal clear.

Salinas works at Bakersfield Community Hospice on 21st. Her groundfloor office has a big picture window that faces the exact spot where Gutcher and Raue collided.

She heard the yelling in the intersection that started it all. Then she saw Gutcher flip the U, park and approach Raue.

"He was screaming at the old man," she remembers. Gutcher was so angry, she said, it frightened her enough to lock the door.

"He was in a full rage," Salinas said of Gutcher's demeanor. "He yelled 'Why don't you f'ing say something now!?' And then he pushed the old man. Hard.

"The old man had no idea what was coming. He went flying back. He fell straight back and hit his head. It was scary."

When she saw -- and heard -- Raue's head hit the concrete, she rushed outside.

"I thought for sure there would be blood, he hit that hard."

Gutcher, she recalled, backed away and stood at his car. His head down, hand over his mouth.

Raue was knocked out, Salinas said.

When police arrived, Salinas said, they treated Raue roughly, barking questions at him over and over.

"They treated him like a bum," she said.

It was so bad, she said, she intervened several times reminding them he'd just suffered a major blow to the head.

At one point an officer asked Raue if he could identify his assailant. Salinas recalls that Raue kept repeating that he just wanted to go home.

The officer said if Raue didn't know who hit him, they couldn't make an arrest, Salinas said.

"But he's right there! He's right there!" Salinas remembers saying and pointing to Gutcher.

For his part, Gutcher told me it was all "unintentional."

He said Raue had walked right in front of him as he'd turned onto 21st even though Gutcher had the green light. He'd almost hit Raue and was shaken up by it. He pointed to the light to let Raue know he had the right of way.

"But that just enraged him. He started f-bombing me and flipped me off. People only saw the last part," Gutcher said.

OK, but still, I asked, why did you make that U-turn?

"I thought I'll compel the guy to go back and look at the light," he said.

Gutcher didn't recall saying anything as he approached Raue. He denied being in a rage and said he was still just shaken up and "petrified" from having almost hit Raue in the crosswalk.

When I asked how Raue got knocked down, he declined to answer.

He added he had no idea Raue was nearly 80 years old. Gutcher, who is 60, said to see him "dancing through the intersection, calling me a (expletive) and saying he'd kick my ass, you would have thought he was 16."

Then Gutcher grew quiet, choked up and asked if Raue was OK.

Another witness, Bakersfield City worker Mark Wilbanks who was up in a crane changing bulbs at the stoplight, supported part of Gutcher's account. Gutcher had the right of way and Raue stepped into his path, Wilbanks said.

"They were both yelling at each other. They were full of expletives," Wilbanks recalled.

He didn't see the end result, however, and just caught Raue hitting the sidewalk "out of the corner of my eye."

"If he (Gutcher) had hit the other guy in the intersection, the pedestrian would have been at fault," Wilbanks said.

But that's not where the story ended.

Salinas said she and other bystanders were flabbergasted when the cops let Gutcher go.

"I told the cops he should be arrested and at least go to anger management classes," Salinas said. "One of the cops said he (Gutcher) was late to work.

"Yeah, not late enough not to make that U-turn, though."

 

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or email lhenry@bakersfield.com.

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