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No Charges in Zeanah Scuffle With Petitioner

Politics: D.A. calls case in which a recall signature collector claimed the councilwoman injured his wrist too minor for prosecution.

May 13, 1997|MIGUEL BUSTILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

THOUSAND OAKS — Deeming the entire affair far too petty for prosecution, the Ventura County district attorney's office announced Monday that it would not file charges against Councilwoman Elois Zeanah over a May 3 scuffle in which a recall petitioner claimed Zeanah bruised his wrist.

Jerry Jones, a paid petitioner hired by a group looking to oust Zeanah, filed a battery complaint with the Sheriff's Department last week, contending that Zeanah grabbed his left wrist and snatched a clipboard from him, yelling "You are slandering me!"

Jones, who had asked Zeanah to sign the petition, said he did not realize at the time that she was the person being recalled.

Zeanah admitted arguing with Jones outside the Ralphs supermarket on Moorpark Road and scribbling over some Zeanah recall propaganda he pushed "in my face," but denied ever touching him.

Because witnesses offered conflicting accounts of the incident, prosecutors determined battery could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. More to the point, they said in a news release, it was just not worth their time.

"The district attorney indicated the matter was too de minimis to warrant involvement of the criminal justice system," the release said.

Zeanah said Monday she was relieved, but not surprised, by the district attorney's decision not to file charges against her.

"I knew nothing could come from this," Zeanah said. "There was just no truth to it. It was an attempt to try to make me look bad, another stab at trying to get negative publicity against me."

Jones, 31, who works for Progressive Campaigns of Santa Monica, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Peter J. Turpel, spokesman for Yes! Remove Elois Zeanah, said the group respects the district attorney's rationale for not filing charges against Zeanah. But he said recall committee members were a little put off by what they saw as the "de minimis" jab.

"I don't think it was too small at all," Turpel said. "A person, whether they were paid or not, was exercising their constitutional right to gather signatures, and Mrs. Zeanah interfered. There is no question that she did that, and that's not what we expect of our elected officials.

"That statement alone is cause for concern," he added. "When does something become too small for the criminal justice system? That bothers me a little bit."

Supervising Deputy Dist. Atty. John Cardoza said Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury was aware of the decision not to prosecute, which was partially made on the basis of the limited resources of the judicial system.

"Just to be very frank, it's not something we would ever put before a jury of 12 Ventura County residents," Cardoza said. "If somebody's wrist is broken, that's one thing, but this was not anything close to that. This was very minor, to say the least."

Jones filed a complaint with sheriff's deputies shortly after the incident but said he would not seek charges. He changed his mind two days later, and Zeanah contended that he had been put up to it by her political foes.

Mayor Judy Lazar and Councilman Andy Fox are also facing ouster, albeit at the hands of a different group, Residents to Recall Fox and Lazar.

The groups need to gather signatures from 15% of Thousand Oaks' registered voters, or about 10,169 signatures in all, to place their recall measures on the ballot.

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