Riverside police video backs council member’s account of courthouse vandalism

Riverside police body camera video supports City Council Member Clarissa Cervantes’ contention that she arrived at the courthouse after officers responded to vandalism reports and left minutes later, after speaking to a sergeant, a police spokesperson said Thursday, Aug. 4.

A Riverside Police Department video appears to support the statements of Clarissa Cervantes, seen Tuesday, July 13, 2021, about what happened near an abortion protest at the downtown Riverside courthouse on Saturday, July 30, 2022. (File photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)

Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco has accused her of backing protesters’ defacing of the regional landmark during an abortion rights rally Saturday night, July 30. Cervantes has denied that and demanded an apology. Speakers at this week’s Riverside City Council meeting, legislators and others have echoed her request that the sheriff apologize.

Bianco did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday, Aug. 3, or Thursday.

“It appeared from the camera that she was coming from the direction of the sidewalk,” Riverside police spokesperson Officer Ryan Railsback said of the video. “She approached him, inquired about what was going on, he answered the question about what was going and it appeared that she left.”

The video also shows “that she arrived after our officers were on scene,” Railsback said.

He said officers assigned to patrol downtown received the call concerning damage at the more-than-century-old courthouse building at 8:20 p.m. Saturday and got there a few minutes later. After responding, Riverside police officers turned the matter over to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, which polices county buildings such as the courthouse.

The officer’s comments appear to at least partly corroborate Cervantes’ account of what happened Saturday night.

Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, seen Monday, June 14, 2021, wrote in a social media post that Riverside City Council Member Clarissa Cervantes is “lucky we couldn’t arrest you.” (File photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Late Saturday, Bianco wrote in a social media post that Cervantes was spotted at the courthouse.

“Shame on the Riverside city councilwoman for supporting the defacing of our courthouse,” he wrote. “You are lucky we couldn’t arrest you.”

Cervantes, who condemned the defacing of the historic building, said she did not participate in the protest and only came across the activity there while walking along a downtown street after attending the opening of an art gallery nearby with friends. Cervantes said she walked up the steps to talk to the sergeant, whom she knew, to find out what was happening. Some of those friends spoke during a public comment at the Tuesday, Aug. 2, council meeting.

On Wednesday, Aug. 3, three state lawmakers from the Inland area issued a joint statement asking Bianco to publicly apologize to Cervantes.

Earlier this week, sheriff’s Sgt. Edward Soto wrote in an email that Cervantes was not arrested “because she did not vandalize the building.” Soto also has said no apology would be coming from Bianco. On Monday, Aug. 1, Bianco said in a text message that he could not discuss specifics of the investigation “just because the councilwoman is in damage control mode.”

As for the building, workers tried to wash off the paint, but could not remove all of it, a court official said.

The video does not show what occurred during the protest before police arrived, Railsback said.

Related links
Sheriff Chad Bianco should apologize to Riverside council member, lawmakers, residents say
Sheriff Chad Bianco, Riverside council member clash over her role in abortion protest at courthouse
8 arrested after abortion rights activists vandalize Riverside courthouse, officials say
RIVERSIDE COUNTY: Million-dollar facelift slated for historic courthouse