A “Hyalea” cop has trouble standing as the defense attacks his story of beating
Over two days of testimony this week, Jose Ortega Gutierrez did little to support the claim’s case that two Hialeah police officers abducted him, took him to a remote location and beat him so badly that he passed out and had to go to the hospital.
He refused to answer some questions. The jury also watched video of his arrest, Ortega Gutierrez repeatedly misidentified the handcuffing officer and claimed he was former Hialeah cop Rafael Utano — the man on trial who was seated less than 10 feet away.
“He wasn’t in any of the videos I showed him,” the officer’s defense attorney, Michael Pizzi, said.
Ortega Gutierrez’s inaccurate testimony was troubling enough on Tuesday that Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Andrea Ricker Wolfson warned him that if he didn’t show up to finish the hearing on Wednesday, he would be charged with contempt of court.
He appeared. But his testimony remained shaky.
Twice, Ortega Gutierrez — a self-confessed alcoholic with nine criminal convictions who has lived behind a Hialeah laundromat for nearly two decades — misidentified himself while watching a video of his interactions with owners and customers at a Hialeah bakery that led to his arrest. When pressed, Ortega Gutierrez said he had memory problems, then got angry at Pizzi for trying to “confuse” him.
“What does this have to do with what we are here for?” Ortega Gutierrez asked.
This could be an important point. Despite Pizzi’s success in attacking Ortega Gutierrez’s credibility, District Attorney Sean Opohoff may just have to prove that Otano and his former colleague in Hialeah, cop Lorenzo Orvilla, were the only officers at the remote location where Ortega Gutierrez was beaten, so that jurors can understand the extent destroy his credibility. It was just a red herring.
Ortega Gutierrez — a reluctant witness who has been called by both the defense and prosecutors — is at the center of a case that could see two young former Hialeah police officers jailed, possibly for life. He took the stand this week during the trial of Otano, 23, a policeman in Hialeah until he was fired over a Dec. 17 incident in which the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office claims he and Orfila pulled Ortega Gutierrez away and beat him near some woods. In a remote dead end and I left him.
Otano and Orfila were charged with battery and kidnapping. A trial date for Orvilla has not yet been set.
During the trial, the owners of a bakery in a strip mall at West 60th Street and 12th Ave said they called the police on the afternoon of December 17 after Ortega Gutierrez became an unruly and troublesome customer. In testimony this week, the bakery owner said Ortega Gutierrez accused her of poisoning food and stealing tips, and he denied the accusation under oath.
The state claims that through GPS, video surveillance and eyewitnesses, it can prove that after police arrived and handcuffed Ortega Gutierrez, he was led away and beaten by the two officers. Pizzi argued during the trial, now in its third day, that his client had not placed a finger on, moved or interacted with Ortega Gutierrez.
He was also accused of witness tampering in the case Ali Amin Saleh, an investigator who prosecutors say found Ortega Gutierrez after the accident and offered him money in exchange for signing an affidavit claiming the two men did nothing wrong. Another man, the notary Juan Pritofocovino, avoided prosecution for falsely documenting the statement, by agreeing to five years of probation. He can testify at the trial of Orfila or Salih.
Pizzi is scheduled to continue his questioning of Ortega Gutierrez later Wednesday afternoon. The trial is expected to last more than a week.