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Did Petrilla 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.

Rancho Santa Margarita Councilman Jesse Petrilla. Patch photo credit: Martin Henderson
Rancho Santa Margarita Councilman Jesse Petrilla. Patch photo credit: Martin Henderson
Originally posted at 11:42 p.m. Feb. 4, 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.
Domestic Goddess February 05, 2014 at 12:50 PM
Do not attack the messenger. A free and active press is what we need to keep our democracy alive, vital, and working in our best interests. Instead, analyze the information that you have read or find a way to participate and attend these meetings if you feel the press is getting it wrong. From what I have read, there is a real discrepancy in what Petrilla does and what he says.
Robert Templeton February 05, 2014 at 03:42 PM
I REALLY don't mean to incite an argument - I have no ax to grind with him or others. However, I don't understand how this is a "hit piece" when it sets forth the record in a factual way. Even if the writer is no fan of Mr. Petrilla, the facts are what they are and Mr. Petrilla's statement was made by his own hand and distributed as his choice. Just help me understand why it is a "hit piece"? Is this story about a different person (i.e. NOT the RSM Council Member)? Did he NOT go to Jail? Did he NOT shoot a rifle into occupied vehicles? Was he NOT sentenced to drug, alcohol and anger management counseling? Did he NOT try to persuade a witness to not testify? PLEASE don't bash me - I just want to know why this is being branded by some as a "political hit piece" without getting beaten up. Thank you!
LeAna Bui February 05, 2014 at 04:32 PM
Mr. Templeton: my problem with the writing is that it includes unnecessary and irrelevant editorial comments that malign Mr. Perilla and it fails to outline WHY the courts dismissed the charges later (important component in what was happening at the time. Additionally, it fails to point out that Mr. Petrilla subsequently served in the military where he was given a firearm. A "factual accounting" does not make it unbiased. Like you, I have no ax to grind here and I do not excuse Mr. Petrilla's actions, but there is a clear bias on the part of the writer.
Donnamarie CarenzaKline February 05, 2014 at 05:02 PM
WOW! This is what you got? How dirty is this? For gods sake he was a teenager...I am sure all of us have done things in our past that we would rather forget but probably learned a good life lesson from. HE WAS A TEENAGER!!! and it was removed from his record, so what is the point??? Smear campaign? Ugliness in PLEASANTVILLE? This man has apparently GROWN UP to be a responsible good citizen who has fought for your damn rights to even speak, I am sure he has done more in the way of contributing favorably to society than the "average" RSM resident just by merely serving in our military and putting his life on the line for ALL OF YOU ridiculous people. Apparently the military did not have a problem with his record from the past (that was removed) otherwise he would not have been allowed to join our military as a felon! And lets talk about the freedom of opinion and journalism...If 'a free and active press is what we need to keep our democracy alive, vital, and working in our best interests' why is that so many people have taken issue with the RSM Politics blog/site? Isn't that merely another form of "active press"? Although it might be on the opposite side of the approved "RSM right" side, it still is just active press...
Domestic Goddess February 05, 2014 at 05:18 PM
I stand by my original statement. I do not want to gag our press. We have the right to know and to form our own informed opinions. Donnamarie, I do not care to argue your opinion with you. If this is not a big deal to you and you do not want to know, that is fine with me. I wish you well.
BehindTheOrangeCurtain February 05, 2014 at 06:05 PM
Journalism? Is anyone under the impression that this is a credible publication? I don't know the man. But I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. I personally am not too concerned about a brawl with the "Townies" when he was 17. I'm not the same person that I was at 17, nor are any of you. Let it go.
Lori Clements February 05, 2014 at 06:11 PM
Martin, I believe in your first article you stated that Mr. Petrilla was convicted of several felonies. Does Mr. Petrilla have any felonies on his record? The answer is NO. You never mentioned in the first article that the charges were dropped to misdemeanors & dismissed. At the beginning of this article you state that he was convicted of 2 felonies for assault with a firearm. It's not until the end of this article that you mention that the charges were dropped at "Pertilla's request". You end this article with, "it was the courts recommendation at the time of sentencing that "IF" Petrill violated his probation he would be sentenced to the maximum penalty allowed." Really, you don't think that's "twisting the truth?" How about how Petrilla "lied" about claiming not to be receiving benefits from the city? Is he accepting benefits from the city? NO, he is not. He was the one that made the motion to stop benefits to all city council members! I believe in writing the facts and letting people come to their own conclusions and up till now I thought you did too.
LeAna Bui February 05, 2014 at 06:25 PM
Domestic Goddess: I completely agree with you about the importance of a free press. Along with the importance, however, comes responsibility. The media has the ability to shape public opinion making it very important that any reporting is done in as unbiased a manner as possible with no preconceived notions. Unfortunately, in this piece, rightly or wrongly, Mr. Henderson shows a clear bias against Mr. Petrilla.
Aaron F Park February 05, 2014 at 06:42 PM
let's see - Petrilla was tried as an adult. So, there goes the teenager argument. Mr. Petrilla has indeed lied. When asked if ever convicted of a crime - the honest answer is yes, not his. Suggesting that his past has shaped who he is today is true in the sense that it appears Mr. Petrilla has not changed since he committed said felonies at age 17.
Aaron F Park February 05, 2014 at 06:45 PM
The fact of the matter is - Petrilla is still a very angry man. His behavior in public, on the council and interpersonally suggests that the judge and the court documents correctly diagnosed him. Jesse's statements and behavior since the revelation of this incident further bear out the validity of this revelation. It appears to be a life pattern. This is fair game for informing the public.
Deborah Forbeck February 05, 2014 at 06:50 PM
Someone mentioned a free and active press, but what I would love to see is HONEST journalism. It must be difficult to write without showing bias, but it is possible to do if the writer is intellectually honest. Mr. Petrilla was a teenager when the “event” happened. Had it been something serious, as the writer speculates, something more than adolescent angst, I do not think the military would have accepted him and given him training and a gun and various promotions. What I take from this is Sacramento must be very afraid of Mr. Petrilla joining them at the State Capitol. He’s already shaken up RSM.
Laurmelashouse February 05, 2014 at 07:16 PM
I believe it is called vetting. Most political parties do it. Wether I agree with Mr. Henderson or not, he did bring to light something, I would hazard to guess, none of us knew about. Yes it was in his past, yes I am sure we all have things in our past we would all like to forget about. But having served jail time for a felony that was then removed from his record, is something that should be truthfully admitted. It is all about being honest and transparent, something most political figures have a hard time with.
LeAna Bui February 05, 2014 at 07:40 PM
Laurmelashouse: I would agree with you until today's article. Mr. Henderson reported news with the original article and then posted Mr. Petrilla's statement (in its entirety) following the original article. That gave readers enough information to make a judgment. There is no new news in this article. This is Mr. Henderson doing his own analysis of the story. And, unfortunately, his bias came through very clearly in the way he presented his facts. If there is new news to report, then let's hear it, but this was not new.
Chris McLaughlin February 05, 2014 at 08:29 PM
LeAna, I think the new news here is that Jesse is still unable to be honest with people, as far as his characterization of the confrontation/incident. When the story first broke, I said it would be great to get the actual court records, so we could see what really happened (since Jesse isn't to be trusted), and now we have something like that, in the form of newspaper articles from that time reporting objective news, back before Jesse had any political or military record, and therefore no spin to it. The other piece of news is that this was really a 'rumble' with the 'Townies'. (How very West Side Story of it all...) Also, the fact that he brought a (loaded) gun to a fistfight is significant, and another thing Jesse's version seem to omit. Anyway, I feel sorry for everyone who gave money to his Assembly campaign. He's going to get so clobbered it isn't funny...
Robert Templeton February 05, 2014 at 09:21 PM
Hello Ms. Bui, just a note to thank you for the courtesy of your reply and your well written thoughts. Thank you very much for addressing my questions. Take care!
Dove Canyon Oldtimer February 05, 2014 at 10:44 PM
Martin should be commended for his investigative journalism and factual accounting of Petrilla's past. And he is well within bounds of journalistic integrity when challenging statements made by Petrilla that are meant to deceive the public. I'm not surprised at the Petrilla apologists commenting here. They probably voted for him and now feel pretty stupid. So they rationalize therefore in by doubling down on Petrilla's deceit. Petrilla needs to resign immediately. He is not an ethical person ands not someone who should represent the city in any capacity.
Chris McLaughlin February 06, 2014 at 12:52 AM
There's no chance of Jesse resigning from City Council or giving any money back. If anything he'll realize he's got a better chance of holding onto RSM City Councilman than trying to step up to Statewide office, and (illegally?) convert his Assembly campaign money into spending on a City Council re-election campaign. He's thrives off of the 'freedom fighter' persona he's fabricated for himself, and warding off attacks from his political enemies is just fuel for his warped worldview/ambitions. If he stays in that race, he's going to get crushed in his bid for an Assembly seat. Hopefully then he'll permanently step down from the RSM City Council dais by this time next year, and God-willing we'll be free from his shenanigans for good...
Bryan Bowers February 06, 2014 at 11:07 AM
When news of this incident first broke and I read Jesse’s statement about “shooting in the direction” of the rival gang to scare them off, I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. However, when we now discover that he was shooting at vehicles with people inside my opinion has changed. If his aim had been off by mere inches, Jesse would now be a convicted murderer and not a city council member. He picked up a loaded gun, took aim at occupied vehicles and pulled the trigger at least 10 times. That is not a lapse in judgment, or a youthful indiscretion… that is intent to injure or potentially kill someone.
Rsm Truth February 06, 2014 at 01:11 PM
DOVE CANYON OLDTIMER (AKA-JENNIFER BEALL). I am no fan of Jesse Petrilla but, you are the campaign manager of the other guy. hahaha You also have your loyal troops responding to this article! You and Tony are too much! Wake up RSM you are being manipulated!
Rsm Truth February 06, 2014 at 01:14 PM
DOMESTIC GODDESS (AKA JENNIFER BEALL!) Goddess? You have a high opinion of yourself! One of your 4 fake names on The Patch!
Rsm Truth February 06, 2014 at 01:16 PM
RSM also needs to wake up about the loud BULLY Gary Thompson who is running for The SAMLARC Board!
Domestic Goddess February 06, 2014 at 01:24 PM
RSM Truth, Stop making false accusations. I am not Jennifer Beall, and I only have one given name and one preferred name. My given name is Eva Herbert, but I prefer Domestic Goddess to you. What is your real name? I bet you won't say, and it's obvious why. I do have a high opinion of myself as everyone should. I am proud of my life's work and the things I post.
Lori Clements February 06, 2014 at 01:29 PM
If you feel strongly enough about a subject to make a post, why not you use your real name? I'm just wondering...
Rsm Truth February 06, 2014 at 01:35 PM
I believe Martin Henderson cherry picks information and never gives both sides of the story. In my thinking, he made The RSM Patch into a political tool for the Political Powers existing in RSM. The "National Enquirer Version of RSM"? Wonder if this comment will be deleted?
Domestic Goddess February 06, 2014 at 01:36 PM
For my safety; these discussions can get heated, and you never know, but I don't like false accusations, so the truth is more important.
RSM Family February 06, 2014 at 03:12 PM
Amazing! Jesse could have killed someone...proof shows premeditation...he brought a gun and a chain! Jesse shot at occupied cars!! Jesse lied all along...He is LYING today...no apology...no remorse...and people are STILL defending him?...and worse... people are blaming a reporter??...Jesse needs to go, now. He does not represent our family!
Rsm Truth February 06, 2014 at 10:33 PM
It is not so much that we are defending Petrilla, it is more about attacks against him from The Bealls, Gamble and Gary Thompson. They have been around too long! Tony Beall and Carol Gamble have been caught with distortions of the truth at council meetings! This is the TRUTH!
RSM Family February 06, 2014 at 11:29 PM
Wow! Really? It IS ALL ABOUT defending Petrilla lying!!! Disgusting!
Poot Smelly February 06, 2014 at 11:45 PM
Actually, my wanabee neighbor has dragged me into this fray! I don't think anyone will defend lies including lies of 2 sitting members of our city council and I am not talking about Petrilla and Baric! Beall, Thompson and your rabid supporters are disgusting in your attacks on adversaries. Yes, Petrilla was a teenager, yes, he did wrong and yes, the charges were dismissed. I did not support Petrilla but, with you people making these attacks, I may become his supporter. Yes, RSM Family we know that you are Gary Thompson!
Chris McLaughlin February 07, 2014 at 04:10 AM
Speaking of low-life anonymous social media posters, did we ever confirm who's behind the RSM Politics Facebook site? I just realized my FB News Feed hasn't been filling up with his (I assume it's a guy) ads lately. Now that I think about it, they seem to have dropped off right after the meeting where the Nissan re-zoning bid failed. Hmmm.... Also, 'Rsm Truth', I was just reading one of your other Patch rants, and you use a lot of the same words as the RSM Politics FB guy. It wouldn't surprise if you're the same person, or at least close friends/associates, in real life...

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