Alex Gutierrez, candidate for Tulare City Council District 2, has been accused of assault by Democratic Central Committee (TCDCC) Vice Chair, Kathleen Dowling.
Dowling is also known locally as the “stocking lady” for her donations to the Rescue Mission at Christmas.
After a TCDCC meeting at Tulare’s Apple Annie’s May 25, 2017, Dowling said that Gutierrez picked up a chair as she was trying to leave and pinned her to the wall. She said that the legs of the chair were on either side of her so she could not move.
“He kept yelling at me ‘we need to talk, we need to talk,’ and I said, ‘no you need to let me go.’”
Starting to fear what he would do next and trying to de-escalate the situation, she said she kept her voice down and continued to encourage him to let her go because he was visibly agitated.
Gutierrez was upset about something Dowling said earlier in the evening and he wanted to talk it out before she left.
Dowling said the standoff lasted about a minute as she kept pushing against the chair telling Gutierrez, “You need to stop. I am not going to talk with you right now.” She continued, “I finally had enough adrenaline going that I pushed the chair away and started to leave. I then felt his foot push against my ankles and I hit the floor so hard that the room of 25 to 30 people became dead silent.”
TCDCC member Alberto Aguilar was standing behind her and helped her up. Another member went to get her ice for her knees. Dowling said she fell flat on her face and sustained several injuries, including bruises up and down her body and a torn rotator cuff.
Dowling assumed after the incident that the TCDCC was going to file a police report. When, after three weeks they did not, she filed a police report and notified the state Democratic Party.
Dowling and Aguilar expected TCDCC Chair Ruth McKee to call a special executive board meeting and remove Gutierrez as treasurer as per the TCDCC bylaws. Instead, Dowling was relieved of her duty as cosigner of committee checks “in an effort to lighten her load and keep her safe.”
The Tulare Police Department (TPD) conducted an investigation that came back inconclusive. Though the report was not available at press time, both Dowling and Gutierrez agreed that the TPD report revealed that as many witnesses said that an assault took place as said did not.
Dowling has until May of 2019 to formally press charges.
Gutierrez does not deny there was an incident but denies he tripped her.
He said that Dowling had been rude to him before the meeting and he wanted to tell her he didn’t appreciate what she said. He acknowledged that Dowling did not want to talk so he slid one of the restaurant’s overstuffed chairs in front of her. “But it wasn’t touching her,” he said.
Gutierrez said, “She moved the chair away and pushed herself through me and then she tripped because she walks with a wobble.”
Gutierrez said that she stepped on his foot and that is why she fell down. He also said that it was not Aguilar that helped her up but that it was him.
Because it was after the meeting many of the members were still mingling in and outside the conference room and did not witness the incident. Aguilar was a witness and sent his testimony to McKee in an email the next day.
“I witnessed an incident involving Alex Gutierrez and Kathleen Dowling that resulted in Kathleen falling to the floor due to the actions taken by Alex when he tried to block her from leaving the room where the meeting was held. I saw Alex pull a chair away from the table in his attempt to block her from exiting the room and I heard Kathleen telling Alex to stop that she didn’t want to talk to hm. Alex persisted with his attempt to bloc her from leaving which caused Kathleen to fall face first to the floor.
He continued, “When someone tells you to stop what you are doing, for whatever reason, they are putting you on notice that your behavior is not welcomed.”
Aguilar also suggested that McKee call a special executive board meeting to address Gutierrez’ behavior, writing “This is a very serious matter that requires immediate attention.”
McKee did conduct an investigation into the incident but did not call a special executive board meeting.
TCDCC member, Edith LaVonne, was a witness and said that she saw Dowling try to move the chair as Gutierrez pinned her against the wall. “Two things were very obvious, Ms. Dowling was frightened and wanted to escape being restrained.”
Gutierrez has been accused of similar outbursts by several members of the Tulare County Democrats. He also has a police record of drug and alcohol offenses and resisting arrest that would indicate anger management issues.
Gutierrez said he is a recovering alcoholic but has been sober four years this October.
He attributes his past addiction to his DUIs and the reason behind his resisting arrest. Gutierrez said that the resisting arrest charge was not a result of anger management issues, but the fact that he was still drunk when the police showed up at his house at 7am. The TPD arrived at his house because Gutierrez had missed his court date for a DUI. He admits he was uncooperative and verbally abusive to the police and opted to spend 30 days in jail instead of letting his mom bail him out and incur the court costs.
He said his time in jail was a life-changing experience. Out of the 11 people with whom he shared a cell, 10 were addicts.
“I have witnessed the most downtrodden in our community who feel no hope, and my being one of them, I realized that we need to be uplifting and show love and compassion to solve the issues facing Tulare right now.”
But it wasn’t jail that convinced him to stop drinking. He continued going to bars after his release and woke up one morning in his bed in a pool of blood. The night before he fell backward off a bar stool and cracked his head open on the cement. Because everyone was just used to seeing “drunk Alex” no one called an ambulance but called his brother to pick him up and take him home.
The next morning an injured Gutierrez said he could hear his mother cooking breakfast and his brothers chatting at the table. He realized he could have died that night in bed and no one would have known. That’s when Gutierrez decided to get sober.
“When you choose not to live like that anymore the possibilities are endless. I choose to give back all my recovery to my community.”
According to the former regional director of the State Democratic Party, who did not want to use his name, Gutierrez’ anger issues did not disappear with his sobriety. He said he has witnessed Gutierrez “blow up” at least four times.
“It’s pretty common knowledge among local Tulare Democrats,” he said.
The former director was the target of one of Gutierrez’ outbursts. “My arms were loaded with stuff and he walked right into me and it all falls down. He then blew up and started yelling at me. Five minutes later he acts like nothing happened, totally oblivious.”
“I don’t think he recognizes it,” the former director added. “He just blows up and starts screaming at someone for no real reason or something small.”
Gutierrez and Aguilar, on the other hand, believe that Dowling’s accusations and collecting testimonies from fellow Tulare County Democratic leaders are politically motivated. Though Aguilar saw the incident, he attributes it to Gutierrez’ acting childish.
Both have heard Dowling say that she would do anything she could to derail Gutierrez’ election to the city council.
As for the incident, Gutierrez admits it was silly, stupid, and childish for him to do and “it caused something unfortunate to happen.”
“It’s like a live, life, learn situation and I will never do it again,” he said.