Riverside City Councilman Sues Sheriff for Defamatory Comments

A Riverside city council member said in a lawsuit that the sheriff defamed her when he said on social media that she had supported violating the historic courthouse during an abortion rights protest in July.

City Councilman Clarissa Cervantes said Sheriff Chad Bianco did “tremendous damage” to her reputation by posting false comments linking her to a protest in which she had not participated, The Press-Enterprise reported Friday.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Riverside County Superior Court said Bianco’s statements, with “absolute lack of corroborating evidence,” implied that she had committed a crime. The comments sparked criticism and threats against her and exposed her to “hatred, contempt, ridicule and shame”.

Bianco had named Cervantes in a Facebook post as the councilor “many” say was in attendance to support an abortion rights demonstration, where eight protesters were arrested for vandalism for leaving green handprints on the walls and pillars of the nearly 120-year-old courthouse. The damage was estimated at $10,000.

“Our downtown courthouse is a beautiful piece of history and art,” Bianco wrote. “When you damage, damage or destroy property, you are no longer a protester, you are nothing more than an ordinary criminal. Shame on the Riverside City Councilman for supporting the demolition of our courthouse. You’re lucky we couldn’t arrest you.”

Cervantes was not arrested because she did not damage the building, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department said.

Cervantes, who condemned the violence, said she passed the protest on her way to a bar and restaurant and stopped only to ask a Riverside police sergeant what was going on.

Bianco has declined to apologize. He hadn’t seen the lawsuit, but when asked about it Friday, he called it “as fictional as most of her social media posts after the event.”

“If she hadn’t supported these groups, she wouldn’t have to spend so much time on harm reduction to show up at their protest,” he said.

The suit is claiming an undisclosed amount in damages.

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