San Fernando Councilwoman Maribel de la Torre was charged Friday with vandalism and battery of her former lover and fellow council member, the latest chapter in a City Hall soap opera that has residents of the small town fed up.
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office filed the two misdemeanor charges against the 41-year-old councilwoman in the June 28 incident, which Mario Hernandez reported to San Fernando police.
De la Torre allegedly attempted to strangle her then-colleague and smashed his laptop computer, according to authorities. Afterward, each took out a restraining order accusing the other of being the aggressor.
Four days after the incident, the City Council — with De la Torre abstaining and Hernandez absent — fired interim Police Chief Gil Carrillo, who was overseeing the investigation.
Hernandez quit his City Council position Tuesday, apologizing for bringing his private life into council business.
The accusations are the latest in a year of scandal at City Hall. At a council meeting Tuesday, some residents expressed growing frustration.
“Anything seems possible these days. Our City Hall has become the laughingstock of the Valley. It’s a telenovela with taxpayers’ money,” Linda Campanella Jauron said outside the council chambers. “It’s time for a change. I don’t even know if we can afford to wait until the recall election. This community is bleeding.”
Residents said the city should be focused on economic problems, including the closing of the local JCPenney.
Hernandez resigned knowing that he was to face a recall election this fall, along with De la Torre and Mayor Brenda Esqueda. Residents have already gathered enough signatures to send the issue to the ballot after a series of sex scandals, police chief firings and questions about contracts and political patronage in this predominantly Latino, working-class community of 25,000.
At one memorable November council meeting with his wife in the audience, then-Mayor Hernandez delivered the stunning news that he was having a “relationship” with De la Torre. He also revealed that he had filed for corporate and personal bankruptcy.
The relationship took an ugly turn June 28, when a violent confrontation unfolded at Hernandez’s home. Officers found his bedroom ransacked and his laptop smashed. He told police De la Torre had hit him and tried to strangle him after she came to take back an iPad she given him. A police officer who came to the home reported seeing red marks and scratches on the councilman’s neck, and police began investigating the councilwoman.
Within days, Hernandez got a restraining order against the councilwoman and she responded with her own order alleging that he had attacked her.
Esqueda has been accused of having an affair with a police sergeant. In a memo last year, a police commander claimed he was prevented from placing the sergeant on leave by Esqueda and Hernandez. She told reporters this week, “we might be elected officials, but we still are human beings.”
De la Torre’s attorney, Bob Steinberg, said the councilwoman surrendered to police at 3 p.m. and was released without bail after being fingerprinted. “I am confident if the D.A. Steve Cooley had reviewed this case, it would have never been filed,” he said.