In the wake of allegations that Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach and one of his managers knocked down a campaign sign belonging to his opponent, new video has emerged purporting to show Zellerbach removing Mike Hestrin signs outside a convenience store, then putting up his own.
According to media reports from the Coachella Valley, Zellerbach's campaign has acknowledged that he uprooted the Hestrin signs outside an am/pm convenience store on Jefferson Street, just off Interstate 10, Wednesday morning.
However, according to the Zellerbach camp, the district attorney obtained permission from the owner of the store to place his signs -- and take down Hestrin's.
"The sign was accidentally knocked over while I was installing one of my own signs, and as the video shows it was immediately put back up," he said. "At the time I had no idea that Javier Garcia Sr., was in the area or perhaps following me, or that he would file a police report."
The video images were captured by a surveillance camera overlooking the store parking lot, only a short distance from where Zellerbach was later witnessed pushing down a large Hestrin sign at the intersection of Jefferson and Indio Boulevard.
"As you know, Mr. Garcia is a strong supporter of my opponent, a member of the Riverside Sheriffs' Association union and an individual who has been very upset with me for my refusal to grant immunity to his son, Javier Garcia Jr., in exchange for grand jury testimony in a triple murder case," Zellerbach told the Desert Sun newspaper.
Zellerbach told one inland publication that the Hestrin sign had been knocked over inadvertently as he was planting one of his own, and that the entire episode was "much ado about nothing."
The latest video, recorded from a distance of about 150 feet, shows the driver of a white SUV getting out, walking to the side of the road and pulling down three small signs, which Hestrin's campaign has confirmed belonged to him.
After removing the signs, the individual proceeds to collect what appears to be a sign from the trunk of the SUV and walks 20 paces to another spot along the roadway, where he places his sign.
Indio police are said to be investigating the latest incident as part of a probe that began with Wednesday's complaint filed by District Attorney's Office Investigator Javier Garcia, who allegedly witnessed Zellerbach and District Attorney's Office tribal liaison Ricardo Rubio kicking down the Hestrin sign.
According to information obtained by City News Service, shortly before 10 a.m. Wednesday, Zellerbach and Rubio were seen planting a campaign sign for the incumbent -- then summarily knocking down a large Mike Hestrin sign anchored at Indio and Jefferson.
Garcia apparently observed the activity and confronted the suspects, one of whom he immediately recognized as Zellerbach, said Riverside Sheriffs' Association President Robert Masson, who spoke on Garcia's behalf.
"The Hestrin sign was planted firmly in the ground," Masson said. "He said Zellerbach pushed the sign several times until he successfully knocked the sign over. He left it there on the ground. The officer confronted Mr. Zellerbach and his companion, telling them that he saw what they had done."
According to Masson, Zellerbach immediately retreated to the county- owned Ford Escape SUV that he and Rubio were using and shut the door, "leaving Mr. Rubio to pick up the Hestrin sign and try to put it back."
Garcia walked back to his vehicle and pulled out his camera phone, videotaping the tail-end of the encounter, which appears to show Rubio trying to re-erect the sign.
Guitron said Garcia arrived at the Indio Police Department lobby around noon to file a formal complaint of "tampering with a campaign sign," in which Zellerbach is named as the suspect.
"This officer would not make something like this up," Masson told CNS. "I know him on a professional level, and he's very reliable, very credible."
Zellerbach told reporters he was in the Coachella Valley for several official functions.
– City News Service contributed to this report.