As investigation into Mayor Dominic Foppoli advances, authorities and Windsor officials scrutinized
It has been more than a week since law enforcement opened a criminal investigation into Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli after at least six women publicly accused him sexual assault and abuse in encounters spanning from 2003 to last year.
The new probe launched by Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick includes a team of five detectives and a sergeant and its scope includes all reported allegations, including those documented in recent news stories, he said.
The department is working with the state Attorney General’s Office, which would handle any prosecution.
Essick declined to give a timeline but said the public should trust his investigators to be thorough. “I realize that the public has a significant interest in this case, as they should,” he said.
“From an investigation quality standpoint, I want to make sure that we are thorough, accurate and complete,” he said.
Yet as the the new investigation advances, local law enforcement is operating under even greater scrutiny because of past, public warnings about Foppoli’s behavior and how they were handed by authorities and fellow elected officials at the time.
The pressure ranges from those who’ve said that local agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office, could not be trusted to pursue an aggressive investigation, to others who claimed in an explosive Wednesday meeting that Windsor town officials and fellow council members were “complicit” in Foppoli’s alleged behavior.
Some of those doubts and public criticism stem from the official response to two prior warnings about Foppoli in emails to Windsor Town Hall. One came in 2017 alleging predatory behavior toward female guests and employees at his winery. The other came in February 2020 and described the mayor as accused of rape by multiple women.
Both warnings were dealt with behind closed doors. And neither had any lasting consequence for the well-connected vintner’s rise in political power.
The 2020 email, addressed to Windsor Town Manager Ken MacNab, said that “The people of Windsor do not want a 4 year term Mayor, especially Dominic who I have learned recently has been accused of rape by more than one women.”
Only upon receiving that email did MacNab provide both written warnings to Windsor Police Chief Ruben Martinez, the town disclosed for the first time on Tuesday. Martinez reviewed them along with a Sheriff’s Office investigator specializing in sexual assault. But no investigator with either the police department or the Sheriff’s Office reached out to the author of that email to find out what she knew.
Martinez and sheriff’s office investigator “reviewed the letter and I think they just left it at that,” Assistant Sheriff Jim Naugle said in an interview. Windsor contracts out with the sheriff for policing, so the chief is also an employee of the Sheriff’s Office.
The handling of that warning raised questions this past week for Karlene Navarro, who as director of the county’s Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach has oversight responsibilities over a range of Sheriff’s Office operations.
The message in the 2020 email was “a broad, but very serious allegation,” Navarro wrote in an email.
“I think the best practice would have been for law enforcement to give the emailer a call to ask her about the information on which she was basing her statement,” Navarro wrote. “If she had personal knowledge of a rape or could connect law enforcement to a rape victim or witness, it should have been investigated.”
At Wednesday’s town meeting, Martinez said the email was “political in nature.” It was written opposing Foppoli’s bid for another stint as mayor and listed other grievances against him unrelated to rape or sexual assault. The email’s author had merely “heard” about rape accusations, Martinez said, emphasizing “heard” by repeating it twice —though the email didn’t use that verb.
“If the author would have stated she was a victim of a sexual assault or knew the victim of sexual assault or have specific details of a sexual assault,” Martinez said, “we would have reached out to her, or any potential victims, to start an investigation. All we had was hearsay.”
When MacNab delivered the 2020 warning to law enforcement, he also provided for the first time the previous warning the City Council had received in 2017, before his tenure as city manager. That email had been addressed to Councilwoman Deb Fudge and was shared with the entire council as well as the town attorney and MacNab’s predecessor. In it, a woman alleged in detail how during a 2013 stay with seven friends at a guest home at Foppoli’s Christopher Creek Winery, Foppoli acted in a “predatory” way.