|Cop-Turned-Doc a Blessing|
|Written by Mark Nichols|
As an undercover cop, Pete Gutierrez helped bust some of South Florida's biggest and dangerous drug dealers.
These days Gutierrez, now Dr. Gutierrez, is running a clinic for the homeless, continuing his lifelong mission of public service.
In his old job, the questions Pete asked about drug activity or use were designed to produce an arrest and improve the quality of life for the residents of Miami.
Today those questions help him figure out the best course of treatment for some of the most vulnerable members of society - men, women and children with no place else to go.
In a profile of Dr. Gutierrez that ran recently in the Miami Herald, reporters got a chance to see how the Doc uses his experience on the street as a cop to diagnose and treat homeless patients, many of whom suffer from psychiatric disorders and drug dependency.
Dr. Gutierrez sees a patient for the first time. He asks the patient about his drug history but assures him that he will not be judged. Then he waits patiently and looks away. That's a technique Gutierrez learned on the streets as an undercover cop.
The patient starts talking, slowly at first. The 56-year-old, Mr. Harris, tells the doctor he started smoking marijuana in 1988 before moving on to heroin and crack cocaine. He has Hepatitis C. And his jaw still hurts from a street fight that took place months ago.
"The doctor convinced me that you have to be honest with them about your situation if you want help,'' Harris softly says after his examination, his first in years. "It ain't easy telling stuff.''
Unlike most medical professionals that know nothing about life on the street, Dr. Gutierrez can use his vast knowledge gained as a police officer to break down some of the barriers that typically keep homeless people from getting the help they so badly need.
Pete says the newly opened health center has treated about 60 patients in the six-week period that the facility has been open.
"So much of our clients' pasts has brought them here,'' Gutierrez told the Herald in a recent interview.
"They have lived tough lives that have taken a toll on their minds, souls and bodies. We are here to help them get as healthy as possible. Because someone is poor does not mean they should have to deal with below-standard healthcare.''
Pete's career as a street cop speaks for itself. The husband and father of three was a decorated City of Miami police officer for 11 years before he quit to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor.
The cop/doctor combination made him a no-brainer choice to run the health clinic.
"This is someone who came here with nothing . . . and served our community as a police officer and a doctor," says Ron Brummitt, president of the mission.
Pete joined the Miami Police Department in 1978 after emigrating from Cuba as a boy.
Within four years, he was working undercover with an elite, 12-member narcotics squad working the deadly streets of Miami during what is now referred to as the "cocaine cowboys'' era.
His ability to read people and charisma made him a natural for the work.
"Working undercover, he had a great gift of gab. But he was also really cool, not bringing too much attention to himself. He wasn't loud or rambunctious but a good actor,'' says Miami Police Maj. Armando Guzman.
Between June 1983 and May 1984, Gutierrez had made more than 100 arrests and confiscated $4 million in narcotics and $500,000 in cash and counterfeit bills.
Some of the more famous cases he worked included the arrest of Rosie Ruiz, the dethroned Boston Marathon champion who cheated to complete the race.
She later moved to South Florida and was caught brokering a coke deal in secretly taped phone conversations with Gutierrez. He also took down Fidel Castro's sister, Juanita, for selling prescription pills over the counter at her drug store.
After 18 months working in internal affairs, he left the job in order to finish medical school in the Dominican Republic. He then practiced family medicine in Puerto Rico before returning to South Florida in 2005.
Last year, after meeting with Brummitt and Annette Gibson, a professional colleague, he joined the effort to open the clinic.
"Pete is a mover and a shaker, but most importantly, he is a physician. He was able to give us the clarity and understanding of how to put together a clinic,'' says Gibson, a professor of nursing at Miami Dade College who coordinates the rescue mission's healthcare services. "He came at absolutely the right time.''
Tito Oropesa, 63, a two-pack-a-day smoker who used to smoke crack cocaine, walked into the clinic to get a rash checked out. Gutierrez diagnosed the rash immediately.
"This looks like shingles,'' Gutierrez said. After telling the patient he wanted to do a more thorough exam, he did something that most folks wouldn't when dealing with a "bum" or a "pan-handler." Dr. Gutierrez treated the man like a human being.
"In the meantime (before the more thorough exam), I need you to slow down with the cigarettes.''
Another patient is Willie Rice. Twenty-seven days out of prison, homeless and scared, he came to the clinic with a bag of empty prescription bottles and complaining of stomach cramps, blood in his vomit, and soreness around old knife wounds.
After he was examined, Rice walked out with appointments for gastritis, prostatitis, and glucose and cholesterol tests. He also left with something just as valuable: hope.
"This place is such a blessing. I don't have to go far to find out what's wrong with me,'' says Rice, 48. "I was just going to pray on my pain to go away.''
Dr. Gutierrez may not be a miracle worker, but the former lawman is undoubtedly the Lord's answer to the prayers of people like Willie Rice.