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Did Assembly Candidate Lie About Shooting Incident?

Councilman and Assembly candidate Jesse Petrilla downplayed his role in event that led to his felony conviction for assault with a firearm.

Originally posted at 7:55 a.m. Feb. 5, 2014. Edited to fix a typo.

By Martin Henderson

Jesse Petrilla, the Rancho Santa Margarita city councilman running to represent South Orange County in the state Assembly, sent a statement to supporters last week that significantly downplayed his involvement in an incident which landed him in jail for two felony convictions of assault with a firearm.

The incident came to light after a Patch investigation into Petrilla, who has stretched the truth on other occasions—most notably during a March 27 council meeting in which he claimed to not be receiving benefits from the city when he had only the day before filed paperwork to forego the benefits.

Based on court documentation and a newspaper account of the incident that relied on information from the Placer County Sheriff’s Department, the candidate for the 73rd District failed to disclose the severity of the circumstances which led to his incarceration for eight months.

The sentence stemmed from a potentially dangerous clash between two groups in 2001 in a remote location near his hometown of Auburn.

For example, Petrilla’s recent statement omitted the reason for the confrontation in the first place; according to authorities, it was because the two sides had determined earlier in the day to meet for a fight—and Petrilla’s side brought a loaded rifle to the rumble. Other mischaracterizations of the event and its fallout exist as well. 

Petrilla’s statement also did not disclose that the terms of his probation included drug and alcohol counseling, anger management counseling, and he could no longer have contact with a local gang known as the Townies.

He also didn't acknowledge he spent time in jail, or that the former senator he quoted in his statement, John Lewis, is a volunteer adviser to Petrilla's campaign. 

Petrilla, 30, who has raised more than $100,000 in campaign donations, gave a statement to some of his supporters in response to the Patch investigation. He did not, however, release the statement to the general public or to Patch. In it, he said:

  • He was with “a small group of my friends in a remote area … when we were confronted by many carloads of known older drug dealers and local criminals who clearly intended us physical harm.”
  • He “fired a couple warning shots from a friend’s father’s .22 rifle in an attempt to stop their advances.”
  • That “no harm was done as the attackers returned to their vehicles and fled.”
  • He was “charged with multiple counts, each and every one of which was ultimately dismissed. Each and every one of them.”
  • That “reports from local bloggers last night have told a misleading version of events … one blogger offered cherry-picked pieces of salacious sounding evidence.”

However, Petrilla’s dismissive account strays far from the account reported in the Auburn Journal, which cited the Placer County Sheriff’s Department in its March 13, 2001 story about the incident. 

The newspaper published that Petrilla allegedly fired as many as 10 shots at the group, and that sheriff’s deputies later found bullets which had struck several occupied vehicles. 

Apparently, at least one bullet came close to striking an individual: One witness said he heard a shot whiz overhead, according to the paper. It was after Petrilla began firing at them that the bunch fled to contact authorities, according to a sheriff’s statement.

Deputies received a report of a fight and gunfire at about 8:30 p.m., March 11, 2001, but the confrontation actually began earlier in the day. Both groups were at the American River and a member of one of the parties complained of being struck in the throat with a paintball pellet. 

With the two sides smoldering over the incident, according to the sheriff, they agreed to settle the beef that night near Maidu Drive south of Auburn. But before a fight broke out, Petrilla opened fire on the other group with a .22 caliber rifle his side brought to the rumble.

In his statement, Petrilla, who last week declined direct comment, also omitted an accounting of the incident which led to the charge of trying to dissuade a witness from testifying. 

All told, there were 14 charges against Petrilla, 12 of them felonies: 

  • Three felony counts of assault with a firearm;
  • Four felony counts of shooting at an occupied motor vehicle;
  • One felony count of dissuading a witness from testifying at a trial;
  • Four felony counts of discharging a firearm with gross negligence;
  • One misdemeanor count of exhibiting a firearm;
  • One misdemeanor count of exhibiting a deadly weapon, a chain.

All but the first two counts of assault with a firearm were dismissed, as is often the case when a subject accepts a plea bargain.

Petrilla was sentenced to 240 days in jail by Judge James L. Roeder, and five years of formal probation for which he served three years. Five years after the arrest, the two felonies to which he pleaded no contest were dropped to misdemeanors and dismissed at Petrilla’s request.

It was the court’s recommendation at the time of sentencing that if Petrilla violated his probation that he be sentenced to the maximum penalty allowed.

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