Insanity: Suspect Who Plowed His Car Into a Group of LA Sheriff’s Recruits Is Back on the Streets

The 22-year-old man who deliberately ran his car into a group of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s recruits Wednesday morning–injuring 25, several of them severely–is stunningly walking free after being released from jail Thursday night.

If you know what’s going on in LA these days, you might immediately assume that this was the work of soft-on-crime District Attorney George Gasc?n, but surprisingly, the reason the man was released is that Sheriff Alex Villanueva declined to press charges at this time.

KTLA 5 videotaped suspect Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez as he arrived home with his family:

His release seems absolutely inexplicable to me, but lawyers across the punditsphere are saying it could be the right call.

From Friday’s Los Angeles Times:

Tiffiny Blacknell, a spokeswoman for the L.A. County district attorney’s office, said in a statement Friday that the prosecutors’ office has been in contact with the Sheriff’s Department and the California Highway Patrol, which is leading the investigation into the crash alongside the sheriff’s homicide unit.

“They advised our office late [Thursday] that they would not be presenting a case at this time and that they would be releasing the suspect,” Blacknell said.

But why are they choosing not to present a case? Experts claim that the Sheriff may not have enough evidence of intent by the suspect. Sure, he did what he did, but can you prove it was on purpose? You have to have the evidence to bring charges:

Legal experts and lawyers specializing in criminal defense say the case shines a light on the balancing act of bringing charges while following criminal procedure — including fact-gathering and constitutional rights…

“Maybe in the eyes of the public, it seems like, ‘Oh, my God; this person got out,’ ” said Lisa Zhao Liu, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor, adding that some might be quick to blame the district attorney’s office. “It’s most likely just the fact that they don’t have enough evidence that they think that they can get this person on a particular type of charge.”

I’m not buying it.

I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve been hearing and reading all day about how even though setting him free seems absolutely insane, it very well may be legally sound and tactically smart. Maybe so, but it’s hard not to see a wrong when it’s right in front of your face, and no amount of legalese can explain to me why this vicious wannabe cop killer is free to enjoy his Friday night.

What do you mean, you can’t prove intent? A man swerves sharply into the oncoming lane, accelerates, deliberately plows into a group of people, and never takes his foot off the accelerator, yet there’s no intent there? There’s even video footage of the attack, and multiple witnesses. Villanueva on Thursday deemed the wreck “deliberate,” and said there were no skid marks. Is there a single person that actually thinks it was an “accident?”

If I stab a man on a NYC subway, completely unprovoked, and it’s caught on tape and there are witnesses, do you need to prove what my “intent” was? No. You just need to prove that it was me on the tape and that the witnesses corroborate what the video shows, and I’m toast. (Well, maybe not in NYC, but that’s another story.)

I’ve always liked Sheriff Villanueva, because he’s one of the few strong law and order types left in the crime-ridden City of Angels, but I find this action inexplicable. Interestingly, he conceded his re-election race Tuesday night to former police chief of Long Beach Robert Luna, who will be sworn in next month.

Also to be noted, Villanueva and Gasc?n have famously clashed on many occasions. Could their feud have something to do with the Sheriff’s decision not to press charges? Or is this another case where the Sheriff just doesn’t trust the LA DA to do the right thing, so he’s looking at federal charges?

Give me all the lawyerese you want–this thing stinks, and it’s another reason people are losing faith in our system of justice. What if this guy grabs another car and plows into more people, this time killing some, while we wait for the case to be built?

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