Missing girl's mother questions conversation with Sheriff Metts

LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC (WIS) - "I am desperate. Put yourself in my place. I want my baby." That's the voice of a panicked mother in a telephone call made two days after four-year-old Jessica Gutierrez was snatched from her Lexington County home in the middle of the night.

It was June of 1986. Jessie's never been found. No one has been arrested, and that phone call Debbie made 21-years-ago still haunts Jessica's mother today. "It's part of my daughter's story."

It's part of Jessie's story that Debbie Gutierrez Garnsey kept buried - until now.

What Sheriff James Metts said left her family in fear and left her questioning the investigation into her daughter's disappearance. It was a Sunday.

"By God that's my youngin', and I want her brought back home," Debbie said.

Debbie thought investigators were being pulled off the case for the day. She called the sheriff.

Sheriff Metts: "What do you want me to do? Someone's got to hold your hand, or out working?"
Gutierrez Garnsey: "Listen here. I don't need you to hold me hand. I - and I don't need you to get smart with me either."
Sheriff Metts: "I'm not going to get smart with you but you're not going to get smart with me either lady. I've been up all night long working on your case and I don't need your smart mouth."
Gutierrez Garnsey: "Oh really?"
Sheriff Metts: "No."
Gutierrez Garnsey: "When I ask you questions I need answers."
Sheriff Metts: "We'll give you answers when we got answers to give. Now you mess with me, I'll pull all my people off and we'll go home and go to bed and forget about your case."
Gutierrez Garnsey: "What could the president do about that? You mean to tell me that if I mess with you - you would pull all your people off this case, and go home and forget about my child?"
Sheriff Metts: "That's right."

Gutierrez Garnsey says, "It was not a threat. It was no threat by no means. It was a promise because for 21 and a half years somebody went home and forgot about my little girl."

Metts says, "I never pulled any investigator off this case. In fact we put more investigators on the case."

Sheriff Metts remembers the conversation. His answers in this interview are based on his recollections and what WIS News 10's Kara Gormley told him was on the tape. At this point the sheriff hadn't listened to our recording. Metts says, "We had SLED involved with us, so I couldn't pull investigators off if I wanted to. I was very frustrated with Mrs. Gutierrez because she was accusing me of playing favoritism and she was accusing me of not handling her case the way it should be handled which hurt my feelings."

But Gutierrez Garnsey says, "It was made very clear, you're a nobody. I don't care what happened here. I'll do things the way I want to do them, when I want to do them. You're either going to go along with it or I'll take the men off the case and we'll forget about your little girl. You're like, oh my God."

Debbie says she found herself grasping for something - or someone she could call, someone over Metts. "I was like what about the President? That was pretty crazy. The President don't know me. He's not coming down here to South Carolina. I'm grasping."

"I probably told her I didn't care who she went to," says Sheriff Metts. "That's probably what I told her because the President doesn't have any control over what I do, nor does the governor, nor does anybody but the people of the county who elect me."

But Debbie thinks what Metts says next on tape calls that into question.

Gutierrez Garnsey: "And what about the public that elected you to be in that office?"
Sheriff Metts: "They can elect me or not elect me because I don't really give a damn what they do."

"I do think some of your constituents are going to say, did he mean that in this context? Does he really not care at all about us? And I want you to have the chance to respond to that," Kara says.

Metts responds, "My constituents know who James R. Metts is and they know how much I care about the county and how much I care about every case I work and I put my heart and soul into it. My constituents know me."

The tape continues:

Gutierrez Garnsey: "I understand those detectives are tired because so am I. So am I. That's my youngin'."
Sheriff Metts: "I know that's your youngin' ma'am and we're trying to do everything to try and help you."

"I would wonder, why would somebody tape an official 20 years ago. Why would they take the time now to bring such a tape forward?" Metts asks.

Gutierrez Garnsey didn't tape Sheriff Metts. Sheriff Metts' own department tapped her phones hoping to get evidence in the case.

"Why bring it out today? Why am I being quiet?" She says for years she feared Metts' power, what he might do with her case. After 21 years she wants her story out in the open because she wants the case to move forward.

Metts says, "I only had one conversation with the lady by telephone. What I said to her I don't know. You haven't played the tape for me to know what I said."

After Kara played the tape for the sheriff, Metts professionally but sternly said the interview was over.

This story so far has focused on the tension between the sheriff and Jessie Guittierez's mother. Before the subject of the tape, Sheriff Metts had a lot to say about the case. The biggest news he revealed: he says his department had a prime suspect in a matter of days. A suspect who, to this day, Sheriff Metts believes may have taken Jessie.

So why now, more than 21 years later, is the man many think took Jessie free, especially after Debbie says the family acquaintance from West Columbia talked a little too much about getting away with murder? Sheriff Metts says, "I think the case is strong enough we could win with a good jury in Lexington County."

Reported by Kara Gormley

Posted by Chantelle Janelle