Environmentalists in Texas are standing by their leader even after it was revealed he had been imprisoned for various charges, including rape by force, and has been on the run from authorities for over a decade.
Protesters were shocked this week when Pedro Rabago Gutierrez, who went by Pete Hefflin while leading protests at the site of the Trans-Pecos Pipeline in West Texas, was arrested and had his criminal history and true identity exposed.
Gutierrez had not been seen since he was released on parole from California in 2002 after a long series of serious crimes. He was first imprisoned in 1984 on charges of forcible rape and drug possession with an intent to sell, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Gutierrez was released in 1990 but failed to stay out of legal trouble, according to the report. He was reimprisoned numerous times for parole violations and then convicted in 1998 for having sex with a minor. California authorities lost track of him after his 2002 parole.
But in November 2016, Gutierrez emerged as an environmentalist in Texas protesting a Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission meeting over a proposed pipeline that would carry natural gas from the state into Mexico. He became a vocal leader of the protest, eventually rising to become the activists' head of security and ceremonies. He also was made a board member of the Society of Native Nations.
Many activists at the camp are standing by the man they knew as Pete Hefflin despite the serious charges that brought about his arrest.
Lori Glover, who owns the land containing the protest site and plays a leading role in protest activities, said she was "privileged" to have worked with him.
"He served his time, made a new start," Glover told the Chronicle. "I was unaware of any of this past history. Despite that, I feel very privileged to have worked with Pete Hefflin."
Her husband, Mark Glover, called Hefflin an "honorable man" and wrote off his criminal history by pointing out that "American Indians have an incredibly high incarceration rate."
"I’ve known Pete Hefflin for six months and I’ve found him to be a very honorable man and I will stand by him any day," Mark Glover said. "American Indians have an incredibly high incarceration rate, and if he's served prison time, I wouldn't doubt it. But we believe in redemption and we believe in Pete Hefflin."
Pete Hefflin has claimed to be a member of the Mescalero Apache tribe. It is unclear if that is also a misrepresentation.
Lise Lyseggen, a protester who has donated money to the protest group using GoFundMe, wrote on Facebook that people should "let his past be" and that he should be released so that he could "continue his good work for people."
"Let his past be. Most people,have something in their past,thath they are not to proud off. let him out,so he can still continue his good work for people. It happend's a looooong time ago,bury it," wrote Lyseggen [sic throughout].
Josh Michener, an active protester who announced he was leaving the camp this week due to personal issues, explained the arrest in a Facebook Live video, claiming that camp "leadership" was being "targeted."
"They're targeting leadership," Michener said. "They’re trying to find anything and everything they can dig up from the past."
In reality, Gutierrez was discovered because he presented a fake identification card to a local sheriff as he was waiting for his wife to be released from jail after she was detained during a protest. His true identity—and a California warrant for his arrest dating back to 2007—was soon discovered.
Gutierrez admitted his true identity to police, according to the official incident report.
"Once his identity had been verified through the fingerprint scan, Hefflin admitted that his real name was Gutierrez and that he was wanted out of California," police wrote in an accompanying press release.
He is still being detained in Texas, but will be returned to California.
Gutierrez is a registered sex offender in California due to several charges, including the rape by force charge. He is considered a "moderate-high threat," but had access to children that were brought to the protest site, according to the Washington Examiner.