By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo began an attempt to reboot his political career Tuesday by returning to public duties, voicing remorse and offering a general apology in his first public comments on his July 13 prowling and burglary arrest.
In a nine-minute prepared statement at his first Board of Supervisors meeting in more than a month, Carrillo said he had disappointed his constituents, his family and himself.
“I’m not asking for forgiveness,” he said. “There’s nobody to blame but me. I take full responsibility for my situation.”
The public appearance, the first since Carrillo’s initial July 18 court date, brought an abrupt end to a five-week period in which he said he had been in treatment for alcohol abuse.
Carrillo, fighting back tears at times, read the statement before a packed audience of at least 100 people. The comments came during the part of the board agenda reserved for routine announcements. Carrillo’s turn — in no way routine Tuesday — came last among the three other supervisors present.
In a dead-quiet room, he began by acknowledging the wide criticism of his behavior, conduct that he said had let his constituents, his county colleagues and his family down.
“The hurt that I have caused ripples out in so many directions,” he said. “To each and all whom I hurt, I apologize.”
He acknowledged the reported victim in his case, a female neighbor who made two predawn 911 calls to report a man, later identified as the 32-year-old county supervisor, who police said had tried to enter the woman’s home through a bedroom window.
While not detailing his specific actions, he suggested his behavior had undermined the woman’s “absolute right to enjoy the peace and quiet of her home.”
Carrillo said he had moved away from the west Santa Rosa neighborhood “so as to not cause her any further discomfort.”
Carrillo’s comments from the dais came after he met individually with two fellow supervisors before the 8:30 meeting. His colleagues had learned about his return late Monday.
Supervisor Susan Gorin, who criticized the last-minute notice, said she “was not interested in talking with him beforehand,” but nonetheless spoke with Carrillo briefly.
“I expressed my disappointment … and said that the short meeting was not sufficient to discuss the issues we are dealing with,” Gorin said.
Supervisor Mike McGuire said Carrillo echoed many of the comments in his prepared statement and shared a personal apology.
Board Chairman David Rabbitt spoke with Carrillo over the phone Monday but did not meet with him before Tuesday’s meeting. Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who was out of the state on family business, did not attend the meeting.
Through an aide, Carrillo declined requests for an interview. His district director, Susan Upchurch, said 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.
The pattern mirrors a similar response after Carrillo’s Labor Day arrest last year in San Diego following a street brawl outside a downtown nightclub. That time, he issued a written statement, then disappeared from public view, joining a local delegation on a nine-day trip to Russia. In both instances he initially responded only by prepared statement and declined interviews about the arrests, saying the legal process had to play out.
“Since the legal process is largely transparent, people will get information as it becomes available, and I will respond as is appropriate,” he said Tuesday.
Carrillo described what he said has been a longtime problem with “binge drinking,” that he had largely ignored before his recent arrest.
“Were I to say that this last episode was an isolated incident, I would be denying reality,” he said. “I regret that it took the absurdity of my behavior on July 13 to end any question about the depth of my problem.”
He said his closest friends had for some time “begged” him to stop drinking. He acknowledged for the first time that he had been under the influence of alcohol last year in San Diego, when a fight he was involved in left an Arizona man unconscious.
Carrillo said he had come to the defense of a group of women he and his friends were with who were being harassed by “rowdies.” Prosecutors later dropped battery and disturbing the peace charges against him.
Subsequently, Carrillo said, he gave up alcohol for a while, “sort of like a New Year’s resolution,” he said.
“I never faced the reality that my alcoholism was a disease,” he said, adding later, “I deserve and accept the condemnation of not dealing with my alcoholism.”
He then made what appeared to be a rebuttal to his sharpest critics, who have called for him to resign and vowed to recall him if he does not.
His ongoing legal case notwithstanding, Carrillo said his private conduct should not sully his accomplishments in county office, a post he apparently intends to try to keep.
“There has been much speculation about my continued service on this board and in public life. Amidst this torrent of well-deserved and justified criticism directed toward me, I note that little of this criticism relates to the performance of my official duties,” Carrillo said.
But his critics, who on Tuesday again called on him to resign, said Carrillo’s admission of alcohol abuse could not fully explain or justify what they called his “poor history” and “bad behavior.”
“Even a drunk man knows that attempting to enter a woman’s bedroom window is not a proposition but a felony,” said Karen Fraser, a Rohnert Park resident who identified herself as a former rape crisis and alcohol counselor. “Only a sexual predator does not know the difference.”
Carrillo said he would not comment on the events that led to his arrest and would not be sharing any of his statements to the Santa Rosa Police Department.
Minutes after his neighbor’s two 911 calls, the first placed at 3:40 a.m., officers encountered Carrillo nearby in his west Santa Rosa neighborhood wearing only his socks and underwear.
Police said the screen on the woman’s bedroom window had been torn enough for someone to reach inside. The woman awoke to the sounds of rustling blinds, police reported.
He was arrested on suspicion of burglary, a felony, and prowling, a misdemeanor. Police later said the incident had the marks of intended attempt of some kind of sexual assault.
“I cannot comment on any aspect of this, nor will I discuss my recollection of the events or discussions with the Santa Rosa Police Department,” Carrillo said Tuesday.
He said neither he nor his attorney, Chris Andrian, had seen any police reports or investigation materials. Prosecutors on July 18 postponed filing charges against Carrillo. He is due in court Aug. 30 to learn what criminal charges, if any, prosecutors will file. If charged and convicted of a felony, Carrillo would be forced to step down.
Carrillo said he had transitioned on Monday from a five-week residential treatment program for alcoholism to an eight-week outpatient program offered by Kaiser.
He described the residential program as “rigorous,” including virtual isolation from friends and family, whom he saw during weekly two-hour visits.
“Five weeks is certainly not enough time to conquer addiction, however it is enough time to learn how to begin,” he said.
His critics said that while they wished him well in his treatment, his quick retreat into a rehabilitation program seemed to them politically motivated.
“When you’re doing it to save your career because your handlers have told you to do it it’s even less likely you’ll be successful,” said North Bay Labor Council Executive Director Lisa Maldonado, an outspoken political foe of Carrillo’s.
The three supervisors in attendance offered no response from the dais to Carrillo’s return, a contrast to their strong condemnation in a meeting three weeks ago of the behavior described by police that led to Carrillo’s arrest.
The supervisors were equally guarded later Tuesday in interviews.
Gorin, part of a political camp opposite Carrillo, said she was listening to calls for his resignation but would not take a stand herself before his next court date.
Rabbitt called the meeting “a bit uncomfortable, obviously,” adding that it was nevertheless “inevitable to have to work through that moment.”
McGuire stopped short of saying Carrillo’s constituents deserved a fuller explanation of his actions.
“I think this is just the beginning of what could be a long process,” he said. “Obviously the next step is communicating with residents of the west county addressing the very real concerns that he spoke of this morning.”
Carrillo displayed a quiet and subdued demeanor throughout the three-hour board meeting. He nodded during his colleagues’ comments and allowed only a tight-lipped smile during lighter moments.
He voiced hope that through his treatment he would regain the confidence of his constituents and supporters.
“I hope and pray that I will join the millions of people, many of whom live here in our community, who have tackled, defeated and continue to live with alcoholism while going on to lead meaningful and productive lives,” he said.