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Friday, October 21, 2005

Cop indicted in transsexual's assault
Guillermo Contreras and
Vianna DavilaExpress-News Staff Writers

A San Antonio police officer with 16 years on the force is looking at the possibility of life in prison after he was arrested Thursday on a federal charge of sexually assaulting a transsexual.

The arrest of Dean Gutierrez, 45, came two days after a federal grand jury handed down an indictment charging him with deprivation of civil rights by committing aggravated sexual abuse while on duty.

The indictment capped a probe by the SAPD, the FBI, the U.S. attorney's office and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. If convicted, Gutierrez faces up to life in prison, a $250,000 fine, and up to five years of supervised release.

The indictment was unsealed Thursday afternoon when Gutierrez made his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Pamela Mathy. Prosecutors did not seek his detention, so Gutierrez was released on a $100,000 unsecured bond and several restrictions, including orders not to have firearms.

Gutierrez, wearing a white T-shirt and blue jeans, declined comment as he left the courthouse, walking past television cameras and escorted by one of his attorneys.

The alleged victim in the case, Gabriel Bernal, 22, and several SAPD officers testified before a federal grand jury in August, and the indictment is a result of that testimony.

Gutierrez had been facing charges in state court, but he had not been indicted there, according to his lawyers, Ed Garcia and Ben M. Sifuentes Jr. Gutierrez will enter a not-guilty plea at his arraignment Oct. 28, Garcia said.

"We understood charges were ultimately going to be presented to a federal grand jury, and we were given the indictment today," Garcia said. "We intend to review it very carefully. There are a number of inconsistencies we believe will lead to him being exonerated once the trial is over with."

Gutierrez is accused of forcing Bernal, who prefers to be called Starlight and a woman, to perform sex acts the night of June 10 on the near West Side.

Police reports and court documents allege the attack occurred after Gutierrez forced Starlight into his police car after picking her up near Zarzamora and South Laredo Street. The documents allege some of Gutierrez's bodily fluid was found in his patrol car and on Starlight's clothes and body.

In an interview with the Express-News on Thursday, Starlight welcomed the indictment, saying she hopes it will send a message to police officers, but noted not all law enforcement officers are bad.

"I thank God justice is being served," Starlight said.

Since the incident, she taped a list of Bible verses to the front door of a relative's home, where she lives.

Among them is John 8:32 "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

She said she prays daily to a collection of figurines of angels and the Virgin Mary crowded together on a dresser in her room, though flashbacks clutter her mind. She said she hopes for peace for herself and her family.

"I want to be me," she said. "I want to be where I was and who I am before this incident happened."

Gutierrez had been on administrative duty since his arrest in July on the state charges, but the SAPD placed him on indefinite suspension Thursday, said Sgt. Gabe Trevino, a department spokesman. Indefinite suspension is tantamount to being fired.

Prosecutors recommended bond because Gutierrez does not have a criminal record, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Baumann. He said Gutierrez is presumed innocent and is not believed to be a flight risk.

The case has drawn interest in San Antonio's gay, lesbian and transgender community, which alleges it is profiled and abused, but is reluctant to come forward for fear of persecution. The community has praised Starlight for filing the complaint against Gutierrez.

Baumann commended the police department, which has drawn fire in some cases for handling the investigations of its own officers, for a quick turnaround in the probe. Much of it was done within 24 hours of the incident, he said.

"The police department did a very aggressive and thorough investigation, very quickly," Baumann said. "After that, the FBI working with the police department conducted a very thorough grand jury investigation."


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