Lawsuit: Wrongful stop led to Arlington news carrier’s injury

Maria Gutierrez is suing for $5 million over a 2019 traffic stop. She claims officers pulled her arm, tearing her rotator cuff.

ARLINGTON — Maria Gutierrez was delivering newspapers the morning of Sept. 30, 2019, when police pulled her over.

Now, she’s suing the city and the Arlington officers who stopped her, over what the plaintiff considers a wrongful and negligent traffic stop that resulted in Gutierrez tearing her rotator cuff.

Mayor Barbara Tolbert said in an email last week the city wasn’t aware of the lawsuit in Snohomish County Superior Court. Arlington City Attorney Steven Peiffle and Police Chief Jonathan Ventura said the same.

It was about 4 a.m. that September day. Gutierrez had just delivered newspapers in a parking lot on Third Street and West Avenue. She started driving north on West Avenue. She saw a police car parked with its lights off, according to the complaint filed last week.

Gutierrez got in the turn lane to drive onto Fourth Street. She then said she saw the patrol car make a U-turn and drive up behind her, according to the lawsuit. Its lights were still off.

As she turned, however, the officers turned on the red-and-blue overhead lights. Gutierrez reported she pulled over at the Arlington Park and Ride. She turned on the dome light in her car. One of the officers yelled at her to get out, the lawsuit claims.

Gutierrez held one of the newspapers out the window.

“I’m just delivering newspapers,” she said, according to the complaint.

“I don’t care what you are doing, get out of the car,” the officer reportedly responded.

She got out.

An officer told Gutierrez to face away from them with her hands up, to walk backwards to them, to get on her knees and to put her arms behind her back. According to the lawsuit, she complied.

The plaintiff claims one of the officers pulled on her arms.

“My arm isn’t going back that far,” she reportedly yelled.

One of the Arlington officers said she had to put her arm behind her back. Gutierrez repeated it couldn’t go that far.

“It’s going to have to,” an officer responded, according to the lawsuit.

Gutierrez yelled in pain. Another officer reportedly told her, “You just need to shut — be quiet.”

The officers asked who else was in the car. Gutierrez told them it was just her. One asked what she was doing. She noted she was delivering newspapers, the same job she had held since 2006. The other officer looked in her car, saw the stacks of newspapers and said it was “clear.”

“Well, then let’s get these handcuffs off you,” one of the officers then said, according to the complaint.

The officers then explained they were searching for two suspects who were accused of breaking into a car dealership. She told them she was surprised they didn’t just walk up to her car when they pulled her over.

“Well, I don’t know you … do you know how many officers get shot just walking up to vehicles?” one of them reportedly responded.

Gutierrez reportedly responded they could’ve looked up her license plate first. She held her shoulder in pain during the interaction. Officers let Gutierrez leave.

The pain got stronger as she continued her route. Afterward, she drove herself to the hospital. She had a “traumatic complete tear of her right rotator cuff caused as a result of the police pulling on her arm,” the lawsuit alleges.

Gutierrez reports the injury has led to medical costs and affected her ability to do her job. In late July, her lawyer filed a claim for damages with the city arguing “an award in the sum of $5,000,000 would not be unreasonable.”

The plaintiff is represented by Everett attorney Brian Sullivan.

In a separate high-profile case, a newspaper carrier filed a federal lawsuit this fall over an early-morning confrontation with Pierce County Sheriff Ed Troyer.

The sheriff had called 911 saying the worker, who is Black, threatened to kill him, but Troyer then walked back the claim under questioning from a Tacoma police officer.

In a tort claim, the Pierce County newspaper carrier was also seeking at least $5 million.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; jake.goldstein-street@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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