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Petition Demands Prosecutor Drop Charges Against Transgender High School Student

By Bay City News Service

An online petition is fueling public outcry against charges filed against a transgender teen who got into a fight with three Hercules High School classmates after facing ongoing bullying at school.

Jewlyes Gutierrez, a 16-year-old sophomore who identifies as a transgender female, has been charged with misdemeanor battery in Contra Costa County Superior Court in connection with a fight involving three female classmates, according to a Change.org petition written by her sister, Valerie Poquiz.

The petition demands that the charges filed against the teen be dropped and had drawn more than 5,000 signatures as of Friday evening. The charges stem from a fight in a courtyard at the Hercules High campus on Nov. 15, which erupted after ongoing taunting and harassment from Gutierrez's peers, according to the girl's sister. "During one particular incident, a peer even spit gum in her face," Poquiz wrote. "After repeated events of bullying by this peer, Jewlyes sought help from the assistant principal in fear of her physical safety.

However, the issue was not properly addressed, no necessary action was taken by the administration." The bullying continued, and "Jewlyes was pushed over the edge," Poquiz said in the petition.

A cellphone video of the Nov. 15 fight distributed on the Internet shows hair-pulling and one of the students being pushed to the ground. All four students were suspended for the incident and have since apologized to one another, said Charles Ramsey, school board president of the West Contra Costa Unified School District.

The fight and behavior leading up to it also sparked lengthy school board discussions about the district's policies on bullying and harassment. On Jan. 29, the board is set to introduce updated policies meant to protect against gender-based and sexual harassment.    

With punishment to the students involved in the fight already dealt, no arrests made and positive policy changes in the works, Ramsey said he questions why the district attorney's office would file criminal charges against Gutierrez. "It just puzzles me when it seems like a school matter," he said. "How does this make our community safer?"

Senior Deputy District Attorney Dan Cabral, who heads the district attorney's juvenile prosecution division, said the charges arose from the Hercules Police Department's request for prosecution in the case. While he said he could not elaborate on specifics of the case, Cabral noted that the cellphone video of the fight that sparked the charges only show a portion of the incident.

The prosecutor stressed that charges in juvenile cases are meant not only to protect victims, but also to address the underlying causes behind any criminal behavior and prevent the minor from re-offending. "Our office finds bullying reprehensible and we find it to be truculent, and we absolutely are opposed to it," Cabral said.

On the other hand, he said, "I think if we turned a blind eye to things like this...I'm not sure that would send the right message to people who witness an altercation or to a victim."

Meanwhile, Ramsey and Gutierrez's sister say they believe the solution to bullying of the sort that led up to the Hercules High fight lies in educational programs that promote tolerance and awareness, rather than in the courts. "That's what kids are going to learn from -- not having a criminal misdemeanor charge," Ramsey said.
Giorgio C. January 11, 2014 at 06:34 PM
How about a comment from Supervisor Glover.
Erin MW January 11, 2014 at 09:58 PM
This petition is some BS transgender exceptionalism. Keep in mind that this is a full grown MALE who punched a female in the face. That is why the fight broke out and that is why he's being charged.
Giorgio C. January 12, 2014 at 08:52 AM
Erin, I like your comment because it forces us to look at the issue dead-on. Let's remove some of the layers that might be confusing the issue. I'm doing this exercise not to challenge you, Erin, but to challenge me, and my own thoughts on this. So, a victim of bullying and harassing behavior punched a taunter or harasser in the face. Does it make a difference that a male punched a female? If so, this, too, would be "exceptionalism" of another kind, that we should treat this differently because the taunter was a female. **************************************************Bullying and harassing is wrong. Hitting is wrong. This is the stuff schools deal with on a daily basis, so why is the DA now involved with this case? Maybe because it's an election year for DA Mark Peterson, so a high-profile case was an opportunity he couldn't pass on? This same DA's office quit prosecuting many kinds of crimes because they are understaffed as was reported here <http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/Many-Contra-Costa-crooks-won-t-be-prosecuted-3243986.php>, yet they are going to prosecute a teen victim of bullying? **************************************************Then, there is the defamation and malicious prosecution lawsuit filed by a DA who was charged with raping a co-worker after their consensual kinky sex went way too far as reported here <http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_24766981/former-contra-costa-prosecutors-lawsuit-moves-ahead>******************** And there was the class action lawsuit against the DA's office for their failure to provide indigent criminal defendants with an attorney during their hearing as was reported here <http://www.contracostatimes.com/ci_22289366/contra-costa-public-defender-sued-over-right-an>*********************************************** or the political retaliation lawsuits filed against DA Peterson <http://www.mercurynews.com/top-stories/ci_21692020/political-retaliation-lawsuits-stack-up-against-contra-costa>*******************************************So I think it is only natural to scrutinize all actions and decisions of this agency.
IlianaY January 12, 2014 at 04:00 PM
I have all those questions and concerns about the DA's office, as well. Additionally, this is a teen who was persistently bullied, went to the vice-principal for help and got none. This male teen may have punched a female teen in the face, but it was three against one.
IlianaY January 12, 2014 at 04:11 PM
"With punishment to the students involved in the fight already dealt, no arrests made and positive policy changes in the works, Ramsey said he questions why the district attorney's office would file criminal charges against Gutierrez. "It just puzzles me when it seems like a school matter," he said. "How does this make our community safer?" Exactly. How will prosecuting this teen make our community safer? Is this teen apt to re-offend? No. Do I want my tax dollars spent on this? No. This is a teaching moment.
Joseph Catindig January 12, 2014 at 09:52 PM
What happened to the zero tolerance on bullying in this school?
Selina Williams January 13, 2014 at 03:16 PM
I just signed the petition. This is outrageous. We do not need our children criminalized. We need to be teaching civil rights, respect and tolerance of others. This is a failure on the part of the school administration that clearly does not recognize its role in creating a safe environment for all children.
Sarah Creeley January 31, 2014 at 07:36 PM
There was a West Contra Costa School Board meeting at LaVonya DeJean Middle School in Richmond with an agenda item on bullying. I am unable to attend this meeting, and so, am sending every Board member the letter below. How we treat each other matters. There is a news video on youtube of a 15 year old girl, who is transgendered, being chased and beaten by 3 other girls at Hercules High School. The student who was bullied had complained about these girls days before this attack occurred. Who is accountable for this? What actions were taken by Principal Jen Bender, before, and after, this incident? This sad event has brought national attention to Hercules High School. Has anything, now, been done to ensure Jewlyes Guiterrez's safety? She has a right to be as safe and free from harassment as any child. When students are allowed to bully, no student is safe. 15 years ago a group of students came to a West Contra Costa Unified School Board meeting with a resolution they had written to stop the daily physical and verbal abuse they had endured because of their perceived sexual orientation. Charles Ramsey, the current leader of the School Board, and I were there. A multitude of students and parents talked about daily torment, which sometimes even came from adults who worked at their schools. Fixing this problem requires listening to those who are being bullied. Last year, I went to meetings with Emily Millar, Bruce Harter, and others, because of the way Hercules High school teacher, Janet Headington, and student, Justin Bautista Jones, were being bullied. People shrugged off our concerns, and never really listened. Something is wrong with this. Educational leaders must exemplify compassion and kindness toward everyone. Our students are our responsibility, and we must help them feel safe and valued. It is not enough to say you care, you must deliberately act to change the toxic environment that exists at Hercules High School, and any other schools where bullying is tolerated.
IlianaY January 31, 2014 at 07:43 PM
Great letter, Sarah. Thank you.
Autumn Johnson (Editor) February 07, 2014 at 07:43 PM
Bullied Transgender Teen Facing Criminal Charges Allowed to Attend Conflict Resolution http://pinole-hercules.patch.com/groups/schools/p/court-offers-bullied-transgender-teen-facing-criminal-charges-to-participate-in-conflict-resolution-program
IlianaY February 07, 2014 at 07:49 PM
Thanks for the update, Autumn.

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