Judge rules former Sebastopol mayor, accused of child sexual assault, going to trial
The criminal case against Robert Jacob, a former Sebastopol mayor accused of multiple counts of child sexual assault, is going to trial, a Sonoma County Superior Court judge has ruled.
At the conclusion of a three-hour preliminary hearing Monday, which included testimony from the alleged victim, Judge Christopher Honigsberg found that the prosecution had presented enough evidence to establish that a crime had occurred.
“There is sufficient cause to believe the defendant is guilty,” he said.
The defense also successfully convinced Honigsberg there was not enough evidence to support three of the original 11 charges filed against Jacob by the District Attorney’s Office. The judge discharged those three offenses.
Jacob now faces eight counts related to child sexual assault stemming from alleged incidents that occurred in Sebastopol between Dec. 2019 and March 2021.
During Monday’s hearing, Jacob sat beside his defense attorney Chris Andrian as the alleged victim, a 16-year-old boy, testified about his experience.
The allegations he relayed against the former west county politician and former cannabis entrepreneur included numerous instances of sexual conduct, sending nude photos and inviting unknown men to have sex with the minor while blindfolded.
In cross-examination and in his arguments to the judge following the teen’s testimony, Andrian contended there were major inconsistencies between the teen’s testimony on Monday and prior statements he’d made to authorities — including the number of sexual encounters and what Jacob allegedly did during them.
The teen, who was not identified in court because of his age and who The Press Democrat is not naming, told Deputy District Attorney Ashley Hendon he met the former Sebastopol mayor on the dating app, Grindr, sometime in late 2019 or early 2020.
“After we started talking, I did eventually tell Robert my name ... and age. I told him I was under 18,” the teen said from the witness stand.
They corresponded over text for multiple weeks, the teen said, during which they exchanged nude photos. Jacob also told the boy to call him “master” or "sir,“ he said, “because it made him feel like he was in control” and “sexually aroused.”
The teen said that when he started visiting the now-41-year-old man at his Sebastopol home, he told his parents he was walking Jacob’s dog and doing chores around the house for cash.
"It progressed. It became more sexual after we met,“ the teen testified. He added that on at least two occasions, ”he would leave me a step-by-step process of what to do when I arrived,” which included how to enter the home, which room to undress in and where to put his clothes. Jacob would then blindfold him and take him to his bedroom. The only thing he was instructed to say to the man was yes or no, he said.
In another instance, the teen said, Jacob told him another man would be coming over to join the sexual activities. This made him “concerned,” he said, because he didn’t know the man.
Hendon asked him to walk through in detail the multiple sexual acts Jacob allegedly told the teen to perform or receive during the encounters. As he described the specifics, he often paused or stuttered. His mother sat in the gallery, trembling and fidgeting continuously through his testimony.
Both times, the teen said, Jacob gave him about $75 for the sex before he rode his bike back home.
The relationship ended, according to the teen, when he received a text from Jacob saying that he’d told his husband about their interactions and that his husband disapproved.
In cross-examination, the defense honed in the teen’s lapses in memory and the differences between his testimony and prior recorded statements to police — specifically the number of times Jacob allegedly molested him, how many times Jacob had a guest participate and what Jacob did to the teen.
“Are you having some difficulty recalling these things?” Andrian asked.
“It happened quite some time ago, and it was very traumatizing, so I’ve been trying to block it out,” the teen responded.
Prosecutors also called investigating Sebastopol police officer Salvador Villanueva to testify. He told the judge that he had helped the teen send a pretext message — a method of coaching a victim into getting a suspect to confess to or apologize for unlawful conduct.
Andrian followed up by asking Villanueva whether things the teen said Monday contradicted prior conversations they had together, which Villanueva confirmed.
Honigsberg agreed with Andrian on three of the charges but held Jacob to answer on the rest. Jacob’s arraignment is scheduled for March 17.
You can reach Staff Writer Emily Wilder at 707-521-5337 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @vv1lder.