Update: Collier County sheriff candidate Carlos Gutierrez has released a statement denying the 2012 and 2014 allegations. See his statement below.
As New Times reported last week, Carlos Gutierrez — the only candidate who has filed to run for sheriff in Collier County in the upcoming November election – was fired from Key Biscayne's police force in 2007 for repeatedly falling asleep in his cruiser. But it turns out that incident isn't the only skeleton in his closet.
Gutierrez was twice investigated by police and state child welfare officials after at least two children accused him of physical and sexual abuse, according to documents obtained this week by New Times.
In both investigations, Gutierrez, who currently works as one of 11 officers in the tiny Sea Ranch Lakes Police Department in Broward County, denied the accusations, called in lawyers, and refused to take a polygraph test.
The Collier County Sheriff's Office (CCSO) sought arrest warrants, but the State Attorney's Office declined to prosecute the cases, records show. Gutierrez was never suspended from his new job as a cop in a small Broward suburb during the investigation of those claims.
Gutierrez was fired from Key Biscayne's force in 2007 when IA investigators found him napping in his patrol car after multiple residents complained of seeing him snoozing at work. Three years later, Sea Ranch Lakes hired him.
In 2012, records show, the Department of Children and Families opened an investigation after a child accused Gutierrez of throwing him on a bed, pushing his head into a pillow, and forcing him to perform bear crawls in the yard. The child also said Gutierrez had torn up his drawings and made him eat the scraps of paper. (New Times is not identifying the relationship between Gutierrez and the children to protect their privacy.)
The boy and his sister were interviewed after the CCSO became involved, but both later recanted the allegations of abuse. A DCF investigator and a CCSO detective both reported they believed the children had been coached to change their stories.
But the case was closed as "unfounded" because the CCSO said the evidence did not support the minimum requirements for a charge of child abuse. A spokesperson for the State Attorney's Office said the prosecution did not move forward at a later point in time because there was a lack of documented injuries and inconsistent witness statements.
Two years passed. Then, in the fall of 2014, a girl reported to her psychologist that she had been inappropriately touched at Gutierrez's home in the Naples area, triggering a new investigation. The girl was brought to a forensic interviewer who works with children and revealed that she and another boy had been hit by Gutierrez with a belt, leaving bruises on their skin. The girl said Gutierrez threatened to kill them and their families if they told anyone where the bruises came from.
Later in the interview, the girl broke down crying and said that on another occasion, when she was 9, Gutierrez had reached underneath her pajama pants and touched her; she said she screamed and ran into another room to lock herself in. According to the girl, Gutierrez again threatened to kill her and her family if she told anyone. Reports say she told a relative what happened, but the relative refused to believe her.
The girl's story matched the one she had told the psychologist, according to investigators. Detectives collected pages of her journal as evidence in the case.
Reports say Gutierrez declined to take a polygraph test for the Collier County Sheriff's Office, saying it was a conflict of interest due to his candidacy for sheriff. When offered a polygraph test by the Lee County Sheriff's Office, just to the north, he said it was too close to Collier and suggested the Broward County Sheriff's Office, where he
Gutierrez also declined to speak to detectives about another new accusation of abuse: that he had forced a child to eat dog food off the floor after the boy accidentally spilled the container. The dog food accusation was used to reopen the 2012 child abuse case, according to CCSO reports.
In both cases, detectives attempted to arrest Gutierrez but were told by the State Attorney's Office that their requests for warrants were being denied due to insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
Spokesperson Natalie Harrell confirmed the Department of Children and Families had two child protection investigations involving Gutierrez in 2012 and 2014, although she said the department is not currently involved with him or the children. Harrell said the allegations and findings of the investigations are confidential, as are the status and whereabouts of the children.
During its investigation, the Collier County Sheriff's Office contacted Gutierrez's boss, Chief Jim O'Brien of the Sea Ranch Lakes Police Department. Yet there was no internal investigation performed there, and Gutierrez remains employed with the Broward County law enforcement agency. Michael Braun, the administrative officer to the chief, said the chief was told by the CCSO that the cases had been closed, which is why no action was taken by Sea Ranch Lakes.
Gutierrez didn't respond to New Times' emails, Facebook messages, or messages left with his department to comment on this story. We'll update this post if we hear back from him.
Statement from Carlos Gutierrez:
"I will make this response short and to the point as to not jeopardize an upcoming family court hearing.
"These false allegations stem from a very sad and unfortunate matter involving a very angry ex-spouse and a custody battle that has been waged for over three years between my wife and her ex-husband, who happens to also be a plainclothes deputy. His false allegations started when I exposed him for using his Broward County vehicle for personal use for several years; after he conducted an illegal traffic stop on me in Collier County followed by threats of violence. I immediately contacted the Broward County Sheriff's Office Internal Affairs Bureau and investigators conducted a thorough investigation. The end result was that all the charges against him were sustained; in other words he was found guilty.
"The Collier County Sheriff's Office thoroughly investigated these false allegations for over a year and a half and finally last month sent their findings to the State Attorney's Office. The State Attorney's Office, after thoroughly reviewing the evidence and statements, did the just and proper thing and declined to prosecute. These false allegations were made to prevent the family court hearing to proceed and for the truth to come out. However, I am happy to report that now that the criminal case has been closed, we will motion the court to hear the family case, and the truth will be exposed, as well as the lies; and justice will be served."