Santa Rosa suing suspected sideshow organizers; says tire debris polluted area waterways

In the lawsuit, the city alleges public nuisance, civil conspiracy, willful misconduct and pollution of area waterways in violation of state Fish & Wildlife regulations. It is asking for financial penalties of $650,000.|

Santa Rosa is suing 13 suspected organizers of July 2022 sideshows, contending they not only created a public nuisance through civil conspiracy and willful misconduct, they also are responsible for polluting area waterways with debris left behind by the sideshows — in violation of California Fish & Wildlife regulations.

Filed July 7 in Sonoma County Superior Court in Santa Rosa, the city’s suit seeks unspecified damages but also requests that each defendant be ordered to pay a penalty of $25,000 for each violation of the Fish & Wildlife code.

According to the lawsuit, at least two violations occurred the nights of July 9-10, 2022, when sideshows took place at intersections where tire debris was found to have entered surrounding waterways via storm drains.

If the city wins its action the financial penalties alone would add up to $650,000.

The 13 suspected sideshow organizers/defendants are:

  • Jorge Calderon-Caballero, 19, of Santa Rosa,
  • Jesus Calderon Avalos, 32, of Santa Rosa,
  • George Patino Flores, 20, of Santa Rosa,
  • Alexys Aguirre-Serrano, 22, of Santa Rosa,
  • Emiliano Bautista Rodriguez, 21, of Santa Rosa,
  • Daniel Nunez Serna, 26, of Santa Rosa,
  • Rodrigo Lopez-Tapia, 23, of Santa Rosa,
  • Jersain Lezama Meza, 23, of Santa Rosa,
  • Richard Murillo, 24, of Rohnert Park,
  • Joel Vasquez Cortez, 18, of Rohnert Park,
  • Neri Orea-Vasquez, 19, of Rohnert Park,
  • Manuel Garfia, 20, of Rohnert Park,
  • Roberto Carrillo, 21 of Petaluma.

In January, the Santa Rosa Police Department identified each of them as suspects in last year’s sideshows, which occurred at several intersections across the city.

Sonoma County District Attorney Carla Rodriguez told The Press Democrat on Wednesday the cases were returned to the Police Department for further investigation in February.

As of Wednesday, no criminal charges related to the July 2022 sideshows have been filed against any of the defendants.

It wasn’t clear if any of them have attorneys. None of them could be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.

Santa Rosa defense attorney Roy Miller, who has previously represented a client charged in a sideshow case, said he is interested in seeing how the city’s lawsuit plays out.

California cities have historically requested injunctions to curb criminal behavior in cases involving other crimes such as gang activity.

Miller called the city’s civil suit unusual. He said he couldn’t recall, in his 30 years of practicing law, an approach similar to this.

“What I think they’re trying to do is, they’re trying to send a message throughout Northern California to discourage, if not intimidate, people from doing (sideshows),” he said.

Chesa Boudin, executive director of UC Berkeley School of Law’s Criminal Law & Justice Center, said Santa Rosa was using “an extremely rare tactic.”

“Traditional law enforcement approaches have largely failed to disrupt sideshows and so we are seeing a proliferation of new strategies to respond,” he said Wednesday in an email. “Alameda County, for example, is currently experimenting with a new ordinance that would criminalize even watching a sideshow, likely in violation of the First Amendment. Santa Rosa's approach is creative and likely constitutional but unlikely to be an effective deterrent for future sideshows.”

What are sideshows?

Sideshows are dangerous, nonsanctioned vehicle demonstrations where drivers perform various tricks, such as doughnuts and figure eights, in proximity to a crowd.

They have been reported across California and have forced local and state lawmakers to take extra and unexpected steps to curb them.

In October 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a bipartisan bill that defines sideshows as an event involving at least two vehicles that blocks traffic for the purpose of performing stunts, speed contests or reckless driving for an audience.

Last October, the Santa Rosa City Council adopted rules making sideshow participation illegal, even as a spectator.

Santa Rosa Police Chief John Cregan said sideshow prevention was among his priorities when he took over his department last year.

In a statement to The Press Democrat on Wednesday, he reiterated his prioritization of sideshow prevention and said he was “proud” to work with the City Attorney’s Office to pursue legal action against anyone involved in the events.

“I will use every tool at our disposal to demonstrate these sideshows will not be tolerated in Santa Rosa,” Cregan said.

According to Santa Rosa’s lawsuit, the 13 defendants are members of a sideshow car group, “RosaBarz,” and the 2022 gathering was organized for Nunez Serna’s birthday.

It spread to four intersections and involved about 300 vehicles, according to the Santa Rosa Police Department.

The defendants used social media to plan the sideshow and “further discussed giving false information to accounts they believed to be operated by law enforcement,” according to the lawsuit.

Conversations took place via social media before, during and after July 9 and investigators discovered messages implicating the defendants, according to the suit.

The communications included photos of the sideshows and information defendants shared with those inquiring about when and where it was taking place.

On July 9, the first gathering occurred at about 11 p.m. at Ashton Avenue and Petaluma Hill Road where storm drains collect rainwater that runs into Colgan Creek.

Sideshow participants left tire crumbs that ended up in street gutters and then in the waterway, according to the lawsuit.

A second sideshow began at 11:45 p.m. at Sebastopol Road and West Avenue, where another storm drain collected debris that wound up in Roseland Creek.

The third sideshow began 30 minutes later at 12:15 a.m. July 10, outside the city limits at Guerneville Road and Willowside Road. It was followed at 12:55 a.m. by a fourth gathering at Stony Point and Todd roads.

You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at On Twitter @colin_atagi

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