By PAUL PAYNE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo steps from the boardroom to the courtroom Friday to face possible criminal charges and potentially a further unraveling of his political career in the wake of his arrest in July outside a Santa Rosa woman’s home in just his socks and underwear.
Carrillo, 32, who has been free on bail and says he has spent much of the intervening weeks in an alcohol rehabilitation center, initially was held by police on suspicion of prowling and burglary.
A special prosecutor for the state Attorney General’s Office has since been reviewing the facts of the case and may bring formal charges Friday. A felony burglary conviction would result in Carrillo being removed from office.
Whether felony charges will come is unclear. At the time of Carrillo’s arrest, police said his intent appeared to be to commit some type of sexual assault but offered no further explanation.
Legal experts said that assertion seems odd in light of state statutes that set a higher standard of proof for certain allegations. In order to win a conviction on felony burglary, prosecutors must show a person entered a dwelling with the intent to steal or commit a specific felony, such as rape. Because sexual assault is an umbrella term that includes misdemeanors, it doesn’t necessarily support a felony burglary charge.
“To prove a burglary, they can’t just say it looked like he was up to no good with a sexual motivation,” said Greg Jacobs, a retired Sonoma County assistant district attorney. “They have to say what it is. They can’t leave it open.”
Even if prosecutors allege a specific sex crime, it will be hard to convince a jury that Carrillo was planning to do it, short of an admission, witness statements or a pattern of identical behavior. The possibility that Carrillo was intoxicated at the time further clouds the issue of intent because he may not have been thinking clearly.
Although some may point to his inappropriate dress as proof that he was seeking sex, that could be more a sign of confused thinking caused by alcohol, some legal observers say.
“It seems like too high a hurdle for the prosecutor to leap,” said Santa Rosa defense attorney and Empire College Law School instructor Joe Stogner. “And it requires guesswork, it seems.”
From an ethical standpoint, any prosecutor should decline to file charges if they don’t believe they could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, Stogner said.
The standard of proof for arresting someone is less than what it takes to win a conviction at trial.
“When you overlay alcohol, which could have impaired his ability to think logically, it seems to be an almost impossible task,” Stogner said.
What is more likely, experts agree, is that prosecutors could charge Carrillo with trespassing or vandalism, both misdemeanors, since police say he tore a bedroom window screen enough to reach a hand inside.
Carrillo then could be eligible to negotiate a plea agreement in which he participates in a “diversion” program for first-time offenders that would clear his record of any convictions.
That could forever shroud the facts of the case from an airing in open court and allow Carrillo, who was elected to a second term last year, to attempt to recover from what will have amounted to a public relations debacle.
“There’s no sexual assault here,” longtime Santa Rosa defense lawyer Stephen Turer said. “It’s not a battery because he didn’t touch her. I think the most they could pull out of it is attempted burglary.”
It could be that police and prosecutors have stronger evidence than has been revealed.
If Carrillo is charged with felony burglary, he’s expected to fight the allegation, starting with a preliminary hearing in the months ahead that could reveal more details.
Prosecutor Cody Hunt wouldn’t disclose this week what, if any, charges he plans to file. He said he was working with Santa Rosa police and conducting his own investigation.
Hunt, a Napa County deputy district attorney, is handling the case under a standard protocol used to avoid conflicts with county district attorneys. He reports to the state Attorney General’s Office.
“At this point, we’re still looking at everything,” Hunt said.
Carrillo’s lawyer, Chris Andrian, said he wasn’t sure what to expect. Any charges probably are being vetted by higher-ups, he said.
Andrian said he has yet to receive police reports. He’s suggested that Carrillo was attempting a late-night social call and not a sexual assault when he was discovered outside the woman’s home just steps from his apartment at the time.
“They’re trying to evaluate what they have,” he said.
Carrillo, who was seen as a rising star in the state Democratic party, was detained in the early morning hours of July 13 after a woman called 911 to report someone outside her home near Stony Point Road and West Third Street.
She reported someone tried to get into her bedroom window and that she was awakened by the sound of window blinds being moved.
The woman called 911 a second time to say the person had knocked on her front door, identified himself as a neighbor and ran away.
Officers arrived and found the torn window screen. Carrillo was in the area, clad in just socks and underwear, carrying a cell phone. He was arrested when he could not provide a clear explanation for his behavior, police said.
Officers have said that Carrillo clearly appeared intoxicated during their early morning questioning but not drunk on a level that would make it unlawful. They did not test his drunkenness in the field or measure his blood-alcohol content.
Carrillo posted bail within a few hours and reportedly checked into an alcohol-treatment facility where he remained in seclusion for five weeks.
It was the second arrest in 10 months for the supervisor. On Labor Day weekend last year, he was arrested outside a San Diego nightclub after a fight that left a man unconscious. The martial arts aficionado claimed to be defending female friends who were being verbally and physically harassed.
Prosecutors later dropped misdemeanor battery and disturbing the peace charges.
On Aug. 20, at his first board meeting since his latest arrest, he made an apology to “each and all whom I hurt” and described a longtime problem with “binge drinking.”
But he didn’t discuss the specific allegations.
Carrillo’s case has become the dominant political discussion throughout Sonoma County, with various scenarios that tie the legal outcome to his survival in public office.
In his sprawling west county district, where Carrillo’s supporters and critics are increasingly sparring over speculation about his future, the names of at least a half-dozen candidates have surfaced amid talk of who could replace the supervisor should he resign or be recalled. The fallout could have ripple effects on races next year up and down the ballot.
Two labor coalitions have already called for Carrillo to step down, and a local political group led by two west county activists has vowed to recall him should he not resign by Sept. 15.
Carrillo, however, began last week what appears to be a bid to hold onto elected office. But the level of his engagement with public duties remains unknown.
Carrillo did not return calls and emails this week seeking comment about how he is handling his return to public duties, including how he is catching up on missed work and what public and private meetings he is attending.
On Wednesday, Carrillo briefly attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the runway extension at Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport. He left before the ceremony ended and was not available for questions.
Carrillo’s district director, Susan Upchurch, said last week he would not be granting interviews or making public appearances, limiting his work in the short term to Board of Supervisors meetings and other internal county business.
During his absence, Carrillo was passed over for at least one high-profile county assignment — a board seat on the startup public power agency, Sonoma Clean Power, a venture he avidly supports.
At least two issues originally slated to appear before the Board of Supervisors in the past six weeks, both of them land-use projects in Carrillo’s district, were postponed either partly or wholly because of his absence.
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or email@example.com.