A police officer in Douglas, Arizona, resigned last year after he was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for allegedly colluding with drug traffickers on the U.S-Mexico border, Phoenix New Times has learned.
Back in February 2019, the former officer, Miguel Gutierrez, was interviewed by FBI investigators after the agency received — and “corroborated” — information from confidential informants that Gutierrez was giving law enforcement intelligence to drug traffickers. New Times obtained the case notes from the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board (AZ POST) through a public records request.
The basis for the FBI’s interest in Gutierrez came from a few different angles. It had received reports that Gutierrez was passing along information about the activities of Douglas Police Department detectives to members of drug trafficking organizations in Mexico. Gutierrez had also been in a sexual relationship with a woman identified in the records as “Ms. E” who had previously been caught with a “load of cocaine” in her car by Arizona state troopers. A forensic analysis of the woman’s cellphone found “concerning” messages, including an image of a police report that Gutierrez sent to the woman.
On a different occasion, Douglas police officers found a significant “load of marijuana” inside Ms. E’s vehicle while it was parked at a Food City parking lot. According to a Douglas Police Department incident report obtained through a public records request, a lieutenant was tipped off by a confidential informant that the car, a gold Chevy Avalanche, was packed with marijuana and had entered Douglas from Agua Prieta, Sonora, which is located just across the border.
After the car was located and a police K-9 allegedly detected illegal drugs, the car was torn apart, whereupon officers found 199 separate packages of marijuana amounting to roughly 222 pounds inside the tires, gas tank, and paneling of the vehicle. Gutierrez allegedly stayed with the car “all night” while it was processed and asked questions about the weight of the marijuana and how they found the car before driving to Mexico 15 minutes after ending his shift, according to the AZ POST case notes.
These activities furthered the FBI’s suspicions of possible facilitation of illegal activity by Gutierrez, per the records.
While the FBI investigators told Gutierrez during the February 2019 interview that the evidence “didn’t look good for him,” the agency has not charged Gutierrez with any crime, the records state. However, a Douglas Police Department internal investigation based on the FBI probe found that Gutierrez violated a number of agency policies, including dishonesty and associating with individuals suspected of criminal activity.
On April 29, 2020, Douglas Police Chief Kraig Fullen sent Gutierrez a memo stating that it was his “intent” to fire him due to the probe’s findings. But Gutierrez preempted the termination by resigning on May 4, 2020. The Douglas Police Department then forwarded the case to AZ POST; the board started the process of decertifying Gutierrez as a police officer last July.
When contacted for comment, Brooke Brennan, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Phoenix field office, referred New Times to the Douglas Police Department. She did not respond to an additional request for comment. Donald Huish, the mayor of Douglas, wrote in an email that he has “no knowledge” of the situation. Chief Fullen declined to comment: “We do not discuss disciplinary matters regarding current or former employees,” he wrote in an email.
During his interview with the FBI investigators, Gutierrez denied any collusion with drug traffickers or having any knowledge of criminal activity associated with Ms. E. He claimed that he sent her an image of a police report because he wanted to show her that he was “busy at work writing reports” and that she never asked for the document. Gutierrez also said that he had met Ms. E in Mexico before he attended the police academy and that they would “hook up” in either Douglas or Agua Prieta. However, he did say during the interview that Ms. E had “dated narcotics traffickers in the past” and described her as a “kept woman” because she was “financially cared for” by drug traffickers.
Attempts to reach Gutierrez were unsuccessful.
Fullen’s decision to move to fire Gutierrez stemmed from entirely separate allegations of misconduct. On October 17, 2019, the chief of the Agua Prieta Police Department in Mexico messaged Fullen on WhatsApp and told him that Gutierrez had been detained for allegedly forcing a security guard at a club in Agua Prieta to drive him to the home of a drunk driver who had damaged his parked car. He then beat up the culprit and destroyed his car, according to Douglas Police Department internal records obtained through a public records request. Gutierrez was placed on administrative leave and an investigation was opened.
The allegations ultimately weren’t sustained due to discrepancies between the Agua Prieta police chief’s account and interviews with Agua Prieta police officers, Gutierrez, and other witnesses. (Gutierrez said during an interview that a parking attendant had voluntarily agreed to show him where the drunk driver lived and denied physically assaulting anyone.) During the course of that probe, Chief Fullen instructed the lieutenant on the case to look into Gutierrez’s involvement in the FBI investigation.
A March 11, 2020 interview with Gutierrez that was conducted by the Douglas Police Department lieutenant revealed that Gutierrez has other personal, though somewhat removed, connections to suspected drug traffickers. Gutierrez said that the father of his close high school friend, Miguel Luna, had previously been arrested for “bribery at a port of entry,” while Luna’s uncle, who owned a club in Mexico, was “rumored to be a drug dealer.”
During that interview, Gutierrez claimed that he didn’t think he had been doing anything wrong.
Josiah Heyman, a professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at El Paso who focuses on border issues and previously lived in Agua Prieta while completing his dissertation, said the region around Douglas is “smuggling heaven” because it is “one of the most remote areas of the border.” The infamous Sinaloa Cartel has historically dominated drug trafficking routes in that part of Mexico, according to Heyman.
He added that it is not uncommon for local law enforcement officials working in border communities to get involved in drug trafficking.
“You know your high school buddy has become an inspector at the port of entry, so how do you approach him? You just have him over at a barbecue some afternoon and begin a conversation,” Heyman said. “And a corrupt American official, even a local cop, is a pretty valuable asset.”