WATSONVILLE -- Police said Friday night that they hoped residents would take new leadership roles in a Palm Avenue Neighborhood Watch group in the wake of its founder's felony theft conviction.
Paul Gutierrez, 31, founded a Neighborhood Watch group on Palm Avenue and a broader group called Take Back Watsonville in October. He said he wanted residents to work with police after several burglaries in the neighborhood and threats from gang members.
He stepped down Monday after his theft conviction came to light.
Friday night, police and the Watsonville Neighborhood Outreach Coordinator Chris Miranda held a meeting at Watsonville's old City Council chambers to discuss the group's future -- but only one neighbor attended.
Miranda blamed the 7:30 p.m. time and the distance from the neighborhood for the lack of interest. He said he spoke to some neighbors who wanted to continue the group.
"I know the neighborhood's been going through a lot," Miranda said.
Police Master Officer Jose Barrera said he wanted to keep the momentum of neighbors looking out for each other and reporting crime to police.
"We definitely need a Neighborhood Watch in that area," Barrera said.
On Oct. 30, Gutierrez pleaded guilty to unlawful use of a debit card in Mendocino County, Mendocino County prosecutor Shannon Cox said.
Gutierrez was charged with several counts of using the debit card to steal thousands of dollars from an
Cox said Gutierrez is expected to pay restitution and could serve up to 180 days in a Mendocino County jail. She added that he likely will be banned from having fiduciary responsibility of individuals or organizations such as the Take Back Watsonville group that he tried to form as a 501c3 nonprofit.
Gutierrez is expected to be sentenced Jan. 4. He will not face state prison time due to the state's 2011 prison overhaul, Cox said.
Gutierrez said Monday that his conviction "has nothing to do with Take Back Watsonville and what we're trying to accomplish."
At the first Take Back Watsonville meeting at Gutierrez's home Oct. 9, he discussed ways to combat petty crime and gang activity with Neighborhood Watch. About 30 neighbors, city leaders and police attended and explained Neighborhood Watch, as they have done with about 30 other groups in the city.
While Gutierrez gained the support of many residents who hailed him for taking a stand, he also sold Take Back Watsonville T-shirts for $15. He said he spent several hundred dollars on self-defense classes, pepper spray and other items for residents to protect themselves.
His website, www.tbwnow.org, solicited donations -- although the PayPal link is now deleted.
Gutierrez suspended collection of donations after meeting with Watsonville Police Chief Manny Solano about Take Back Watsonville's lack of nonprofit status.
Dan Skeen, a property owner on Palm Avenue, said Gutierrez was well meaning with the group, but he wished Gutierrez had been more honest.
"It's really too bad," Skeen said of Gutierrez. "He had a lot of passion for this. He had a lot of energy."
Follow Sentinel reporter Stephen Baxter on Twitter at Twitter.com/sbaxter_sc