Crime

Merced County supe likely to go to trial for alleged unwanted touching, attorney says

Merced County Supervisor Rodrigo Espinoza, 50, appears before Judge Steven Slocum during a pre-trial conference at the Merced County Superior Courthouse in Merced, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. Espinoza has been accused of inappropriately trying to kiss, hold hands with and smell the hair of a woman he met with in April to discuss county business, according to Merced Police Department investigators. Espinoza was charged in July with one count of misdemeanor battery.
Merced County Supervisor Rodrigo Espinoza, 50, appears before Judge Steven Slocum during a pre-trial conference at the Merced County Superior Courthouse in Merced, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018. Espinoza has been accused of inappropriately trying to kiss, hold hands with and smell the hair of a woman he met with in April to discuss county business, according to Merced Police Department investigators. Espinoza was charged in July with one count of misdemeanor battery. akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

The attorney for Merced County Supervisor Rodrigo Espinoza said Friday the allegation of unwanted touching that the supervisor faces is likely to go to trial.

Espinoza has been accused of inappropriately trying to hold the hands, kiss and smell the hair of a woman who met with him in April while he was performing his elected duties, according to a report filed by Merced Police Department investigators.

The 50-year-old has pleaded not guilty to the single battery charge brought against him by the Merced County District Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutors have not offered Espinoza a plea deal, according to his attorney, John Garcia.

“We want to proceed with the trial as soon as possible,” he said. “I don’t anticipate pleading my client to anything.”

The veteran politician has not spoken publicly about the allegations.

According to a police report filed in Merced County Superior Court, Espinoza was acting in his supervisor role on April 27 when he pursued the unwanted kiss, held the hands of the woman without her permission and smelled her hair.

The woman had requested meetings because she was an advocate for health care for undocumented immigrants.

The woman said she’s known Espinoza for more than a decade, and they’d met alone before to discuss different issues. On the day in question, she invited him to her office after 5 p.m. to discuss the health care issue, police said.

As she faced a computer screen and discussed the county’s budget, Espinoza began touching her hands and moving in closer, the report said. She repeatedly told him to stop and that she felt uncomfortable, but he continued to move in closer while trying to kiss her and touching her face, the report says.

She said he pressed his lips against her hair and smelled her, the report says.

The woman said she felt unsafe and managed to flag down another employee who happened to pass by her office at the time. She asked the employee to come in. She said Espinoza and the man spoke for a few minutes in her office and then left together, the report says.

Once she was alone, she locked her office door and contacted her boss. She reported the incident to at least two of her supervisors, as well as her husband, according to the police report.

After the alleged incident, police set up a phone call between the woman and Espinoza, in which he was recorded saying the woman “(led) him on” by asking to meet and inviting him to social gatherings, the report says.

Espinoza won his seat on the board in 2016. Before that, Espinoza had been mayor of Livingston since 2010. He is married with children.

He is scheduled to appear in court again on Oct. 15.

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