The quick thinking of a Rankin County Interdiction deputy saved a young girl’s life in late December, according to a release from Sheriff Bryan Bailey’s office.
Authorities say Deputy Sentel Easterling saw a Ford Fusion driving recklessly on Interstate 20 near Pelahatchie. The deputy conducted a traffic stop and observed an man and a young girlin the car. The driver was identified as 24-year-old Oliver Diaz Gutierrez of Houston, Texas. Gutierrez identified his female passenger as a 20-year-old friend. Easterling noticed that Gutierrez was becoming increasingly nervous throughout the stop, which is often viewed by police as a possible sign of deception.
“I stop people daily, and mostly everybody is worried about getting a ticket,” Easterling said. “So I’ve tried to lower that behavior and told them, ‘hey you only get a warning,’ but when I told him that his nervous behavior was still skyrocketing, so that let me know there was a little more to it.”
Gutierrez stated that the passenger lived in Houston as well and that they were visiting a friend in Tennessee but was unable to tell Easterling the last name of his passenger.
Easterling then began to question the girl. The female stated that Gutierrez came to pick her up in Tennessee. After hearing that their stories didn’t match, Easterling asked for and was granted permission to search the vehicle. He was able to locate identification and determine that she was in fact a 15-year-old from Tennessee.
“And me looking at her, approaching the passenger side, she didn’t look 20,” Easterling said. “After I showed her what I found, she said that ‘I ran away with this gentleman here.'”
The girl said she met Gutierrez online and left with him approximately nine hours earlier. A Rankin County juvenile investigator was called and the pair was taken to the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office for further questioning.
All the wheels started turning, and Youth Investigator John Burt was called in to work the case.
“I was able to talk to the dad, he didn’t realize that she was gone prior to 30 minutes before my call,” Burt said. “They were out looking for her, she was not filed as a missing person yet.”
Officers from the Attorney General’s Office and the FBI Human Trafficking task force were brought in for the subsequent investigation. Through their efforts, they were able to determine that Gutierrez had contacted the juvenile online and enticed her to leave with him once he was able to get to her location. The team was able to locate and speak to her parents, who came to pick her up and return her safely to her home.
That was something Easterling was happy to see.
“This one hit hard to me because I have little girls that are teenagers,” he said. “So I felt real good after the situation and I actually felt better about this than I did getting anything else off the interstate.”
Gutierrez was placed under arrest and taken to the Rankin County Jail where he is being charged with kidnapping, child exploitation and enticement of a child for sexual purposes.
“This is a matter of public safety, we need to keep him out of the public so he can’t get out there and prey on children anymore,” said Sheriff’s Department spokesman Paul Holley.
District Attorney Bubba Bramlett presented Gutierrez before Rankin County Court Judge David Morrow who has ordered him held with no bond. This investigation is ongoing to determine the full scope of this act as well as trying to determine if others are involved or in danger.
Sheriff’s Department spokesman Paul Holley said the safe return of this child was made possible by the training, experience and quick thinking of the interdiction deputy and persistent work of investigators.
“The safety of our children is of the utmost importance and we will continue to use all available resources to go after those that prey upon our children,” Holley wrote.