OAKLAND, Calif. -- Several dozen pot activists packed the federal courthouse here on Friday for the sentencing of Jose Gutierrez, a demonstrator arrested during a 2012 federal raid on a medical marijuana dispensary.
Gutierrez, a citizen journalist for community radio station KPFA's Flashpoints, was convicted of assaulting a federal officer as a crowd scuffled during the raid, and had faced up to eight years in prison. On Friday, he was sentenced to five years' probation and 300 hours of community service. He will serve no jail time.
Gutierrez and his lawyers celebrated the news on the steps of the courthouse.
"Although we oppose his conviction, this is the best result we could have hoped for under the circumstances," Gutierrez's lawyer, E.D. Lerman, told The Huffington Post. "We believe he shouldn't have been charged in the first place and that he certainly should not have been punished more than the assault he endured at the hands of federal agents during the incident.
"Thankfully, the judge took that into consideration," Lerman continued, noting that the judge allowed a graphic photograph of Gutierrez being restrained by federal agents be presented during the sentencing.
The fracas outside the dispensary Coffee Shop Blue Sky followed an earlier raid on Oaksterdam University, a marijuana industry training school. During the raid at Coffee Shop Blue Sky, protesters surrounded the dispensary entrance as agents from the IRS, Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Marshals Service flowed in and out the door. In a video of the incident, Gutierrez appears to hit a U.S. Marshal with a sign he was holding. The marshal then pushes Gutierrez to the ground and restrains and arrests him with the help of other agents. The altercation can be seen starting at the 24-second mark of the video below:
Gutierrez did not intentionally hit the marshal, but the force of the crowd shoved him and he barely grazed the agent, his attorneys argued. "At most it was a tap," said Tony Serra, a lawyer representing Gutierrez. The defense lawyers alleged that the agents responded by brutally assaulting Gutierrez.
In a letter obtained from a Freedom of Information request by MuckRock.com, Oakland Police Lt. Kevin Wiley expressed frustration over the lack of communication between his department and federal agents.
"As promised, I am submitting a few concerns from today's OPD assistance to the Feds regarding their warrant services," wrote Wiley. He noted the "lack of a communications plan and clear control/command."
"We would speak with one supervisor of one agency only to have another agency take a different course of action," Wiley wrote.
After the sentencing, Gutierrez recounted the chaotic scene.
Federal authorities "kind of stirred themselves into a frenzy that day," Gutierrez told HuffPost. "They were acting like schoolyard bullies -- I said that on the stand and I say that today. The judge looked at the hospital report and the video and I think he saw that, too."
Though Gutierrez's legal team members said they were pleased with the sentence, Lerman said they may still consider an appeal.
"Jose will gleefully complete the community service," Lerman said, as Gutierrez nodded in agreement. "But this man now has a felony conviction on his record that will follow him his entire life. For the sake of his record, an appeal is still something we're thinking about."
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