A man arrested for allegedly driving a vehicle into a group of law enforcement recruits in Whittier, Calif., was released from jail Thursday night, but the sheriff’s department insisted they did nothing wrong.
Nicholas Joseph Gutierrez, 22, was released at 9:49 p.m. citing insufficient complaints, according to jail records.
Gutierrez is still considered a suspect in the case, and the decision to release him came because investigators wanted more time to gather evidence to file charges with the district attorney’s office, not because they believed a mistake was made and the A spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said.
“It’s not like they arrested the wrong suspect,” Deputy Deanna Mares told CNN late Thursday night. “They just want to make sure the investigation gets done.”
Mares said the sheriff’s department typically needs to file a case with the DA within 48 hours of a suspect’s arrest, and in Gutierrez’s case, they weren’t ready to do so.
A car drove into the group on Wednesday, injuring 25 recruits from multiple law enforcement agencies, in what Sheriff Alex Villanueva initially called a “horrific accident.” That characterization changed dramatically Thursday morning when the department announced that Gutierrez had been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder of a peace officer.
The Sheriff’s Department initially said they intended to refer the case to the District Attorney’s Office on Friday. The department did not give a new timeline for filing the case Thursday.
CNN reached out to Gutierrez’s attorney, Alexandra Kazarian, on Friday. “I have no doubt that an in-depth investigation will confirm that Nicholas was a hard-working young man with no animosity towards law enforcement and that this was an absolutely tragic accident,” she told CNN affiliate KABC on Thursday.
Gutierrez was booked Wednesday afternoon, according to prisoner records. He was alone in the car when the accident occurred, the sheriff’s department told CNN.
Authorities said the five injured cadets were in critical condition. Four other recruits were moderately injured and 16 others received minor injuries, the sheriff’s office said in an initial news conference.
Gutierrez was also slightly injured, the Los Angeles County Fire Department captain. Sheila Kelleher said. All were taken to local hospitals, but there is no update on the condition of the injured.
The sheriff’s office said the case remains under investigation and other charges are pending. CNN has reached out to the prosecutor’s office and the California Highway Patrol, which is leading the investigation into the crash, for more details.
Officials initially said the crash appeared to be “a terrible accident,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at a news conference Wednesday.
Villanueva said the driver who was driving in the wrong direction showed no signs of injury and blew a zero on a breathalyzer test conducted at the scene. The sheriff said there were no skid marks visible at the crash site.
“It looked like a plane crash — bodies everywhere with varying degrees of injury,” Villanueva said of the scene. “It’s very painful for all of us.”
Kelleher initially said the recruits were all from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. But those injured included recruits from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, Pasadena, Glendale and Bell police departments, according to Villanueva. Recruits from the El Segundo and UCLA police departments were also present but were not injured.
The 75 recruits, all wearing white T-shirts and green shorts, took part in what Capt. Ted McDonald of the Sheriff’s Department’s Training Bureau called a “typical run” as part of the department’s 22-week training course. They were accompanied by two safety cars and lined up in four when they were hit, MacDonald said.
The accident happened about 500 feet from the fire station, officials said. Los Angeles Fire Chief Anthony Malone said the four most seriously injured patients were rushed to the hospital immediately, possibly saving their lives.
The incident, Kelleher said, was “difficult to detect because these young men are preparing to put themselves in danger with their careers. Who knows when you train to do that, you’re actually in danger.”