County su­per­vi­sor is ac­quit­ted of bat­tery

Merced Sun-Star (Saturday) - - Front Page - BY THAD­DEUS MILLER [email protected]­ced­sun-star.com

A Merced County jury of eight men and four women re­turned a “not guilty” ver­dict Fri­day in the mis­de­meanor bat­tery case against Su­per­vi­sor Ro­drigo Espinoza.

Af­ter about two hours of de­lib­er­a­tion, the jury said Espinoza should not be pun­ished for the al­leged un­wanted touch­ing of a woman who he had known for more than a decade. The 50-yearold mar­ried fa­ther ad­mit­ted to mak­ing ad­vances at the woman, say­ing he thought she also wanted to pur­sue a ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship.

Espinoza de­clined to com­ment out­side the court­room. His at­tor­ney, John Gar­cia, said Espinoza has al­ways main­tained his in­no­cence, and the ev­i­dence showed that.

“I’m very happy for my client and his fam­ily. He wants to get his life go­ing back in the right di­rec­tion, back to the suc­cess he’s been hav­ing in the com­mu­nity,” Gar­cia said. “My client feels com­pas­sion for his friend, the woman who was al­leged the vic­tim in this case. I wish her the best.”

It is the Sun-Star’s pol­icy to not iden­tify vic­tims of al­leged sex­ual as­sault or ha­rass­ment.

The woman ac­cused the su­per­vi­sor of hold­ing her hands with­out per­mis­sion, at­tempt­ing to force a kiss on her and smelling her hair with­out con­sent ear­lier this year. She said she told him to stop and he con­tin­ued to make an ad­vance by putting his arm around her.

Natalia Enero, the deputy district at­tor­ney prose­cut­ing the case, said she dis­agrees with the ver­dict.

“I think our of­fice col­lected all the el­e­ments and facts to file this case, and we be­lieved the de­fen­dant (is) guilty,” she said. “We re­spect the jury’s de­ci­sion. They are ul­ti­mately the fact find­ers in this case.”

The ac­cuser said Espinoza came to her Merced of­fice on April 27 at her re­quest af­ter she found po­ten­tial fund­ing for a health care project. She said the in­ci­dent left her feel­ing vi­o­lated by Espinoza, a per­son she once thought of as a men­tor.

Espinoza tes­ti­fied that the woman had given him sig­nals that she might be in­ter­ested in a re­la­tion­ship. The woman had pre­vi­ously con­fided with him that her mar­riage was un­happy, not­ing she sep­a­rated from her hus­band for a time, Espinoza said. The woman of­ten in­vited him to the casino or on trips in which Espinoza said he thought they would be alone.

In his clos­ing ar­gu­ment, Gar­cia floated po­ten­tial rea­sons why the woman would lie about what hap­pened.

He said the woman’s hus­band is an un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grant and that vic­tims of crimes in the U.S. can ap­ply for per­ma­nent sta­tus with a U-Visa. In her tes­ti­mony, the woman ad­mit­ted that she had been mo­lested as a small child, and dur­ing trial, Gar­cia ar­gued that she might have wanted Espinoza to pay for those crimes.

Espinoza is in his first term as a su­per­vi­sor, hav­ing won his seat in 2016. Be­fore that, he had been mayor of Liv­ingston since 2010.

ESPINOZA WAS AC­CUSED OF HOLD­ING THE WOMAN’S HANDS, TRY­ING TO FORCE A KISS ON HER, AND SMELLING HER HAIR, ALL WITH­OUT CON­SENT.

THAD­DEUS MILLER [email protected]­ced­sun­star.com

Merced County Su­per­vi­sor Ro­drigo Espinoza tes­ti­fies on Thurs­day in his mis­de­meanor bat­tery trial in Merced County Su­pe­rior Court. A jury re­turned a not guilty ver­dict af­ter about two hours of de­lib­er­a­tion.

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