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One of the big local political stories coming out yesterday was the disclosure of Rancho Santa Margarita City Councilman Jesse Petrilla’s criminal history. From Martin Henderson in the Rancho Santa Margarita Patch — which, surprisingly, does exist:
Jesse Nathan Petrilla, now 30, and seeking to represent most of South Orange County in Sacramento in the State Assembly [District 73], was in 2010 the youngest city councilman ever elected in Rancho Santa Margarita. Yet before becoming a lawmaker, he fired a .22 caliber rifle at an occupied vehicle about five months before his 18th birthday. Tried as an adult, he was sentenced to 240 days in jail and five years probation.
It seems that back in 2001, the District Attorney in Placer County (which is to Sacramento County sort of what Orange County is to LA County) charged Petrilla — then just shy of 18 but tried as an adult, with:
12 felony and two misdemeanor crimes, including the sentencing enhancement of using a firearm which included:
- Three felony counts of assault with a firearm;
- Four felony counts of shooting at an occupied motor vehicle;
- One felony count of dissuading a witness from testifying at a trial;
- Four felony counts of discharging a firearm with gross negligence;
- One misdemeanor count of exhibiting a firearm;
- One misdemeanor count of exhibiting a deadly weapon, a chain.
All but the two felony counts of assault with a firearm were dismissed as part of a nolo contendre plea deal. Following probation, they were reduced to misdemeanors.
All right — what do we make of this — and especially of this story coming out now?
Petrilla — at least until and unless Orly Taitz gets into the race — is the wildest of the Republican wild ones running for the seat. His youthful urge to shoot someone illegally was sublimated into military service in Afghanistan — and later into creating video games such as the one where the aim was to kill Saddam Hussein. (This is known in South County as “demonstrating a qualification for office.”) So finding out that he has a violent criminal record pre-military is not exactly a shock — though it is sort of a depressing commentary in various ways — and I’m not convinced that it is going to ruin his campaign. But … it could!
The other Republican candidates in AD-73 — Diane Harkey’s Chief of Staff Bill Brough, Laguna Niguel Councinman Paul Glaab, and Capo School District’s Anna Bryson — are all considerably straighter arrows, as is the sole Democrat in the race, Wendy Gabriella. Some commenters on the Patch piece say that the story makes them like Petrilla more, which suggests that they already liked him more than enough. Others call it a “hit piece” — and, of course, speculation has begun over who dropped the dime on Petrilla. (It’s not clear than anyone did — this is research that an individual with an internet connection can do — but it does seem likely to come on the basis of a tip. I personally don’t do criminal record searches on candidates.) And it’s very interesting that, if it’s so accessible, this hasn’t come out before now.
The comments section brims with suggestions as to whodunnit, which I won’t review here. I think that we can rule out Gabriella, who — if she had such information, would surely have brought it out for maximum effect around Labor Day. I’m open to information about who of the remaining candidates have the sort of hit squad that would do this.
But, beyond all that, there is something peculiar about the timing. Isn’t this the sort of leak that one would expect once filing had closed? Leak it now and one risks attracting someone into the race who hadn’t been thinking about running. Orly Taitz, for example. Or maybe … Petrilla’s fellow RSM City Council member Steve Baric, who dropped out of the race last year? Why didn’t whoever put out the hit — if this was a hit – wait a bit?
I don’t need to suppose that Baric (or Taitz, for that matter) would have ordered the hit themselves under this scenario: it would just have to be someone who wanted to see him (or her) enter the race. If Petrilla did drop out, who better than Baric to step in? (Well, Taitz, sure — but I have no indication that she’s running. I just enjoy mentioning the possibility. I imagine mainstream Republicans all around OC freaking out at the very thought.) Baric, a former California GOP Vice-Chair whose practice includes election law, is probably the next-wildest of the original five candidates after Petrilla. Even if he didn’t get out the news about his colleague — he could stand to gain from it, right?
Our occasional contributor Aaron Park has had this to say over at Pedroza’s joint:
Basically, the account I was given was that Jesse Petrilla lit up a car full of people with a .22 rifle for no apparent reason. There are other things in Jesse’s past that suggest this was not an isolated incident.
Jesse Petrilla’s behavior pattern over his first term in office has been bizarre and erratic according to accounts I have heard. Given Petrilla’s behavior, his attempts to conceal his past and his lack of repentance for it… now this revelation becomes a problem.
There are three other candidates that are older, allegedly wiser (although I would not give Anna Bryson credit for a thing) and most importantly do not have a police record.
Sources tell me that Anna Bryson’s team has pulled opposition research on all of her opponents. She appears to be expecting to benefit from Independent Expenditures and is planning on scorching the earth. Bill Brough and Paul Glaab had better be ready – because things far less serious than being a wanna-be gang-banger shooting at a car with a .22 are going to be detonated in their faces.
In a separate story — and I’ll make an exception and link to this one, but for God’s sake mute your computer before the blasting pop up videos deafen you — Park recounts Petrilla’s statement on the matter (most of which is pieced together below) and then offers his criticisms, available at that link:
On the night of March 11, 2001 (at the age of seventeen), I was amongst a small group of my friends in a remote area just outside of the city limits in Auburn, California, (where I grew up), when we were confronted by many carloads of known older drug addicts and local criminals who clearly intended us physical harm. I fired a couple warning shots from a friend’s father’s .22 rifle in an attempt to stop their advances. It worked, and no harm was done as the attackers returned to their vehicles and fled.
I was arrested the next morning and charged with multiple counts, each and every one of which was ultimately dismissed. Each and every one of them.
As you may know, I then went on to join the Army National Guard as an officer and have received a Secret Security Clearance. Each requiring in-depth background checks.
Reports from local bloggers last night have told a misleading version of events fed to them by my political opponents’ political opposition researcher, clearly afraid of the momentum of my campaign. For fourteen opening paragraphs, one blogger offered cherry-picked pieces of salacious-sounding evidence before ultimately noting that in fact, all charges were dismissed.
Former Senator John Lewis, who represented Orange County for twenty years in the legislature, also commented on this matter by saying “Jesse Petrilla is a honorable young man who has served his country with distinction with his service in Afghanistan. It is a shame that some political opponent is twisting the truth of an incident that happened years ago for political advantage.”
These desperate attacks will not deter me one bit from continuing my campaign, or the momentum it has been gaining. And I know that as voters explore my record, what they will find is: a military officer, a small business owner, a husband, and expecting parent.
I tend to agree that saying that “all charged were dismissed” without saying “after a prison term and probation” is not only misleading, but arrogantly so. As for John Lewis’s statement — uh, by any chance does this consultant have any ties to Petrilla’s campaign?
Anyway, South County Republicans, you can enjoy your parlor game of figuring out whether this strengthens or weakens Petrilla’s candidacy — if he were a Democrat, the “NO!” answer would be obvious — with an extra bonus game of “fingering the snitch.” The rest of us will just hang out and enjoy watching! Looking forward to it!