Lake County sheriff's race gets dirty

April 5, 2010 8:09:52 PM PDT
A candidate for sheriff in Lake County is under investigation for sexual assault, but he is firing back, claiming the whole thing is the result of dirty politics.

It was a very unusual scene -- a candidate for political office, holding a rally to announce he is under an internal affairs investigation for sexual assault.

"These allegations are false, they are completely fabricated and they are, in fact, politically motivated," Sgt. Francisco Rivero said.

Rivero is a Lake County sheriff's sergeant who is running for the top spot. The election is just two months away.

He claims his boss, Sheriff Rod Mitchell, ordered the internal affairs investigation to weaken his campaign.

"As information comes out about this particular alleged victim and her motives, it'll be clear what's going on to each and every one of you, it will be clear to the people of this county," Rivero said at the rally.

The Rivero campaign provided details of the case, even the name of the accuser, 53-year-old Rhonda Rully. On the sheriff's website, there is a report from December 2008, when Rully was charged with domestic violence on her husband. Rivero is listed as the arresting officer.

Rully readily agreed to tell ABC7 about her complaint against Rivero.

"He dragged me, I did not walk, I could not," she said. "Opened the door which snacked me in the head, threw me in the car, I was all bloody and beaten. Bloody, beaten and I had bruises and he had said, he never told me I was under arrest."

There were no apparent signs of injury in her mug shot. Rully also described a sexual assault -- the basis of the internal affairs investigation against Rivero.

Rully: "He put his hands down the front of my pants."

Dan Noyes: "Down your pants?"

Rully: "Yes, in the front."

Dan Noyes: "As you were walking?"

Rully: "No, as we got to the car and after he smacked me in the head with the door."

It turns out Rully made the same accusation against another Lake County deputy in February 2008. It was dismissed as unfounded.

Rully says the sheriff's department told her male officers are allowed to touch female suspects that way.

"They claim that they do that because they don't have enough female deputies around here," Rully said. "That's their excuse; they can do vaginal searches, the men, that's what they told me, out in the street, wherever."

Sheriff Mitchell tells ABC7 that is not the policy. Still, he defends launching the investigation against Rivero.

"This is a private allegation that we're obligated by law to investigate, no matter the nature of the allegation, no matter whether or not she's made similar allegations in the past or not, we still have to look into them," Mitchell said.

Michell says politics did not play a role and that he warned Rivero before the rally not to discuss it.

"It's crucial that people follow the directives and make sure that the witnesses and complaining parties are not interfered with in any way," Mitchell said.

Rivero tells ABC7 he arranged the rally to get ahead of the sexual assault story. Word somehow got out about the investigation (it was first mentioned on local blogs days ago) and Rivero did not want it to affect his campaign.

Mitchell tells ABC7 Rivero could face termination for speaking publicly about the internal affairs investigation.


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