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GULLIXSON: In brief, it doesn't look good for Efren Carrillo


When Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo was arrested following a San Diego donnybrook last year, many were willing to cut him some slack. Why? Because there was a chivalrous aspect to it all.

At least that was the narrative.

Nobody confirmed that Carrillo flattened anyone during this bar-front fight, but the supervisor, who is an accomplished martial arts student with a black belt in taekwondo, said he came to the defense of some ladies who were being harassed by "rowdies." They were out of line. The implication: Carrillo put one of them in line, or potentially, on the curb.

If that was not the true account of what happened last Labor Day weekend, Carrillo did little to dispel the notion. In fact, he did little to clarify anything. Instead, he took off on a preplanned trip to Russia offering only, "I'm anxious to tell my side of the story during legal proceedings."

But that never happened. The charges were dropped, the issue went away and his side of the story — anybody's for that matter — was never told.

Ten months later, he has been arrested again. But this time, the situation is much different.

There is nothing chivalrous about what happened early on July 13 in his west Santa Rosa neighborhood. Quite the opposite.

The facts, as we know them, are unsettling. A window screen in a woman's apartment is cut or torn. The hole is big enough for a hand to reach through to open a window. The woman wakes to the sound of her blinds rustling. She finds a shirtless man trying to come in through a bedroom window. She calls 911. The man disappears. Soon, there is a knock on her door. The person announces himself as a "neighbor" and then runs away. She calls 911 again.

Moments later, police confront Carrillo outside, clad only in his underwear and his socks. He's holding a cellphone. We don't know what was said, but it's clear that the conversation did not go well. Whatever Carrillo told the police did not add up, so they arrested him on suspicion of burglary, a felony, and prowling, a misdemeanor.

Small wonder that the police were bewildered. We all still are. None of this makes sense.

Many have been quick to ask, what in the world was Carrillo thinking? More important, what was that woman thinking and feeling about all of this? I'm guessing the 911 tapes — if and when law enforcement releases them — will show she was not thrilled with this pre-dawn attention.

Police say there were other witnesses and people involved. Who were they? Was someone with Carrillo?

We don't know. Once again, the supervisor isn't talking. Last time, he took off for Russia. This time, it's rehab, where he and friends say he's getting treatment for an alcohol problem. If so, good for him. But it seems to me there are issues that go beyond rehab.

The bottom line is this: How is it that someone with such a promising political career ahead could be caught with his pants not just down but down the block? Many a political career has been laid low by the desires of the heart, but rarely has there been such a case of an elected official apprehended <i>in flagrante absurdus</i> — in blazing absurdity.

This was not the narrative most of us had for Carrillo. He's a likeable guy. He's bright and amiable. Stylish and politically savvy as well. It's no secret that he had eyes on the Assembly seat soon to be vacated by Wes Chesbro. He had said in April that he would announce his decision on whether to run in a few months. Now it looks as if that decision has been made for him.

Carrillo had his first court appearance Thursday. He looked bedraggled. His arraignment has been postponed until

Aug. 30. If prosecutors file charges, the best he can probably hope for is to plead to a misdemeanor, avoid trial and hope he keeps his job when he comes up for re-election in 2016. If he's convicted of a felony, there is no discussion. He's out of a job.

Either way, is it the end of his political career? I don't know. He's certainly young. There is a lot about this story we don't know yet. And as the New York City campaigns of Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer demonstrate, there are plenty of second and third acts in American politics. Despite their sex-related exploits, both, according to the New York Times, were out front in the polls last week.

Still, there comes a time when we are defined not by our intentions or our charms but by our actions. And this may be Carrillo's time.

There's also something different about Carrillo's case. Different and more disturbing. Police say they believe he was intending a sexual assault.

Was he? Who knows at this point? As former prosecutors have noted, it's difficult to prove intent.

At the same time, what defense attorney would want to go to a jury with the facts as we know them — a torn screen, someone entering a window uninvited, no pants, 3:40 a.m., two 911 calls. It's not good.

Let's be honest. The facts in this case are more than just embarrassing. They are creepy.

And Carrillo has a lot of work to do to change that new narrative.

<i>Paul Gullixson is editorial director for The Press Democrat. Email him at paul.gullixson @pressdemocrat.com.</i>