L.A. Councilman Huizar accused of groping woman in 2005
Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, recently accused by a former top aide of pressuring her for sex and retaliating when she rebuffed him, was the subject of a 2005 criminal investigation in which a Pasadena massage therapist said Huizar groped her, according to records and interviews.
At the time of the complaint, Huizar was president of the Los Angeles school board and was running for City Council.
The Pasadena Police Department recently released a summary of its investigation in response to a state Public Records Act request by The Times.
According to the summary, an employee of the Burke Williams spa in Old Town Pasadena said that on the evening of April 9, 2005, “the suspect grabbed [her] legs during the massage and attempted to pull her toward the massage table. Additionally, at the conclusion of the massage, the suspect grabbed the victim’s leg, arm and breast.”
The complainant, who was not identified, gave the name of her alleged assailant as Jose Huizar, according to the summary. Police investigated the incident as a possible misdemeanor sexual battery, said Lt. Tracey Ibarra, a Police Department spokeswoman.
The woman did not definitively identify Huizar, or eliminate him as a suspect, when police showed her an array of photos that included one of him, Ibarra said. But by the time the matter reached the Pasadena city prosecutors’ office, she made it clear her attacker was Huizar, said Connie Orozco, who then supervised the office.
The woman later decided she did not want to proceed with the complaint, and the prosecutor’s office did not file charges.
Huizar referred questions about the matter to his press secretary, Rick Coca, who issued a brief statement: “The council member recalls being contacted about an investigation more than eight years ago. There was no follow-up with him.”
In October of this year, Huizar’s former deputy chief of staff at City Hall, Francine Godoy, sued him, alleging workplace discrimination and sexual harassment. Godoy contends in the suit that Huizar “explicitly conditioned” her employment benefits on sexual favors and punished her when she spurned his advances.
Huizar has acknowledged a “consensual relationship” with Godoy but has dismissed her harassment allegations as “false and malicious.”
At the time of the 2005 investigation, Huizar was in his second term on the school board and was campaigning for the council seat vacated by the new mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa. Huizar won the seat, and was twice reelected.
The criminal investigation was forwarded by police to the prosecutor’s office and eventually reviewed by Orozco, who was then Pasadena’s chief city prosecutor.
The prosecutor said she was contacted at the time by Steve Escovar, an attorney she knew who was representing Huizar. She said Escovar told her that Huizar was a good man and that the attorney believed the complainant did not want to proceed with a prosecution.
Escovar did not respond to requests for comment.
Orozco said the massage therapist worried that she would suffer consequences at work and might lose her job at Burke Williams if she pursued her complaint.
“It rings in my mind that she said they were not supportive in the least and they were encouraging her not to report this,” Orozco said. “I told her this was not a reason to not go forward … when she was victimized.”
A Burke Williams spokeswoman said the company has “a strict policy against all forms of harassment and encourages employees to report claims without fear of retaliation of any kind.”
About a year after the alleged incident, the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing received a complaint against Burke Williams and four of its employees, a spokeswoman for the agency said.
According to a heavily redacted copy of the complaint, it accused Burke Williams and the employees of harassment, retaliation and other violations of state law. The complaint cited an incident on April 9, 2005 — the date of the alleged sexual battery.
The agency issued a routine “right to sue” letter, which doesn’t judge a case’s merits but is required for plaintiffs who want to file a civil suit alleging employment discrimination. The Times could find no record of a related lawsuit.
Orozco said that some time after an initial conversation about the criminal complaint, the massage therapist told her she did not want to proceed. She said that concern about job security was not her reasons for dropping the matter, Orozco recalled.
In most such cases, “if you say you don’t want to prosecute it, as the complaining witness, you sort of have that power,” Orozco said. “The victim in this case preferred it not go forward, and it did not.”
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.