RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A Riverside city council member said in a lawsuit that the county sheriff defamed her when he said on social media that she had supported defacing the historic courthouse during a July abortion rights protest.
City Council Member Clarissa Cervantes said Sheriff Chad Bianco caused “immense harm” to her reputation by posting false comments connecting her to a protest that she did not participate in, The Press-Enterprise reported Friday.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Riverside County Superior Court said Bianco's statements, with “utter lack of supporting evidence,” implied she committed a crime. The remarks led to criticism and threats against her and exposed her to “hatred, contempt, ridicule and shame.”
Bianco had named Cervantes in a Facebook post as the council member that “a lot” of people said was present in support of an abortion rights demonstration, where eight protesters were arrested for vandalism for painting green handprints on the walls and pillars of the nearly 120-year-old courthouse. Damage was estimated at $10,000.
“Our downtown courthouse is a beautiful piece of history and art," Bianco wrote. "When you damage, deface, or destroy property you are no longer a protester, you are nothing more than a common criminal. Shame on the Riverside city councilwoman for supporting the defacing of our courthouse. You are lucky we couldn’t arrest you.”
Cervantes wasn’t arrested because she did not damage the building, a spokesperson for the Sheriff's Department said.
Cervantes, who condemned the violence, said she passed by the protest on her way to a bar and restaurant and only stopped to ask a Riverside police sergeant what was going on.
Bianco has refused demands to apologize. He hadn't seen the lawsuit, but when asked about it Friday he dubbed it "as fictional as most of her social media posts after the event.”
“If she hadn’t been supporting these groups, she wouldn’t have to spend so much time in damage control for showing up at their protest," he said.
The suit seeks an unspecified amount of damages.