‘Mom influencer’ Katie Sorensen guilty of making false report of a crime
Katie Sorensen, a former Sonoma resident whose Instagram video went viral in December 2020 after she falsely claimed a Petaluma couple tried to kidnap her children at a local Michaels, was convicted Wednesday of one count of making a false report of a crime.
Sonoma County Superior Court jurors, who began their deliberations in Santa Rosa on Tuesday afternoon and then resumed them Wednesday morning, rendered their verdict after nearly five hours of deliberations.
Sorensen showed no emotion as the verdict was read, however, some of her family members in the courtroom appeared to tear up and become emotional.
She was quickly placed in handcuffs and led from the courtroom. Officials said she is being held in the Sonoma County jail.
Sorensen had been charged with three misdemeanor counts of making a false report of a crime due to statements she made during interviews on Dec. 7, 2020, with a Petaluma police dispatcher and a police officer and in a third interview on Dec. 14, 2020, with a detective.
Jurors acquitted her of the first two counts, but found her guilty of the third count, which was related to the Dec. 14 interview.
Reached Wednesday afternoon, Sonoma County District Attorney Carla Rodriguez said she agreed with the verdict.
“By the time she made the last report, she had already made several statements to news outlets and on her blog,“ Rodriguez said of Sorensen. ”At that point, I think they probably felt she had crossed a line.“
The DA added, “We want people to know they can make a report of a crime. But when it’s obvious that crime didn’t happen, you have to stop with the accusations.”
Sorensen’s defense attorney, Charles Dresow, said in a statement: “The verdict of not guilty as to counts one and two rejects the theory that my client lied to the police on Dec. 7. The jury reviewed the actual evidence and found it to be very different than how the case has been portrayed outside the courtroom. We are disappointed as to count three and will evaluate our options moving forward.”
Sorensen could face as much as six months in jail when she is sentenced. She is scheduled to return to court on Friday, when a sentencing date will be set, officials said.
Her mother, Jill Turgeon-Turrill, said she was “confused” by the guilty verdict. She said her daughter did not definitively say on Dec. 14 that an attempted kidnapping had occurred.
“She backed down and even admitted she could be incorrect,” Turgeon-Turrill said.
Sorensen’s stepfather, Eric Turrill, added that she never expressed a desire to prosecute anyone.
The jury of eight men and four women reached their verdict after three days of testimony.
According to testimony, on Dec. 7, 2020, Sorensen told Petaluma police a couple — later identified as Eddie and Sadie Martinez — tried to kidnap her then-4-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter at the Michaels store on North McDowell Boulevard.
She contacted dispatchers 15 minutes after leaving Michaels and then was interviewed by a Petaluma police officer. The officer, who testified, said Sorensen’s story seemed odd but, at the time, it did not appear to warrant a full investigation.
A full investigation was launched, however, on Dec. 14 after Sorensen detailed her claims in a video she posted on her Instagram account. The video was viewed more than 4 million times and attracted her thousands of new followers.
She claimed the couple followed her in and out of the store before they were joined by a suspicious man in a van. They fled, Sorensen said, after she called out to an elderly man and his caretaker who were nearby.
She said in the video, but not to police, that one of the people who followed her around the store tried to grab her stroller.
Police interviewed Sorensen on Dec. 14 and she positively identified the couple when she was presented a surveillance photo, prosecutors said.
The Martinezes came forward after their photos were circulated.
Eventually, though, police concluded Sorensen’s claims were without merit and they cleared the Martinezes of any alleged wrongdoing.
After their names were cleared, the Martinezes said they believed they’d been racially profiled. However, the defense responded that Sorensen had reported the kidnapping attempt involved a Hispanic man and a white woman.
During trial, the prosecution contended Sorensen, who had created a “mommy blog,” made the claims in order to bolster her profile as a social media influencer, which she denied.
Taking the stand in her own defense, Sorensen told jurors she made a mistake and misunderstood what had happened. Her attorney told jurors she truly believed her children were in danger.
Prosecutors, though, presented surveillance footage taken on Dec. 7 from inside Michaels and from its parking lot.
It showed that the Martinezes and Sorensen never interacted with each other. Neither did the van driver, nor the elderly man and his caretaker, whom Sorensen said she sought help from.
Dresow said there was a lot of movement involving several people in the parking lot and it would’ve been easy to misinterpret the surroundings. This included gestures made by Eddie Martinez, who testified he was frustrated because he’d been hungry and had learned that a nearby Chinese restaurant he’d wanted to go to was closed.
Sadie Martinez also testified. She said that because of Sorensen’s claims she and her husband were labeled “child abductors.”
On Wednesday, Sorensen’s parents said they had received death threats as word of the case spread.
They stressed their support for the Martinezes and that their daughter shared that sentiment.
“She never had any animosity toward the Martinezes,” Turgeon-Turrill said.
You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @colin_atagi