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Accusations against San Diego County Dem chairman involve sexual assault, advocate says

San Diego County Democratic Party chairman Will Rodriguez-Kennedy speaks at an Election Night party, March 3, 2020.
Andi Dukleth
San Diego County Democratic Party chairman Will Rodriguez-Kennedy speaks at an Election Night party, March 3, 2020.

The assault accusations against San Diego County Democratic Party Chairman Will Rodriguez-Kennedy that prompted him to take a leave of absence from his position last week involve sex while the accuser was intoxicated and incapable of giving consent, according to the accuser's advocate.

Tasha Williamson, an activist and former mayoral candidate, said she was approached by the accuser in April. Williamson, who has counseled families and victims of police shootings, said she offered emotional support and referred the accuser to resources on how to report a crime.

"When people don't feel supported they wind up contacting me, and this was no different," Williamson said in an interview with KPBS on Monday.

Williamson said the accuser told her Rodriguez-Kennedy had sex with him while "he was drunk and not aware. … He did not give consent." She made the accusations public on May 4 in a Facebook post.

Two days later, Rodriguez-Kennedy announced his leave of absence in a Facebook post of his own.

Tanya Sierra, spokesperson for the San Diego County District Attorney's Office, confirmed the office was reviewing the case but declined to say which law enforcement agency had referred it.

Rodriguez-Kennedy, who was first elected party chairman in 2019, said in his Facebook post that "a person with whom I was in a committed relationship has made accusations against me."

"As a survivor of sexual harassment and sexual assault, I have always been an advocate for my belief that (it) is important that all people who make accusations are afforded respect, dignity, and that their claims are taken seriously," Rodriguez-Kennedy said. "It is important to note that this accusation is false. I can evidence that fact and I will work vigorously to clear up this accusation and my name."

Rodriguez-Kennedy went on to say that he had notified the party's ethics committee, which investigates accusations of misconduct by party members, "to begin that process and to proceed expeditiously."

Members of the ethics committee are appointed by the party chair, according to the party's policies and procedures.

One of the committee's co-chairs, Lauren Bier, wrote on Facebook that the matter "will be going to the committee’s formal process and will be investigated per our procedures. The Chair will not be involved outside of the testimony he provides. Our Chair Pro Tem will step in to observe the process and take the tiebreaker slot, should we need one."

The party's bylaws state the ethics committee shall conduct an "initial review" of complaints within 14 days, after which it has 30 days to make a recommendation to the executive board.

Williamson said she did not believe the ethics committee members are capable of doing an independent and impartial investigation into their own party's chair. She pointed out Bier liked a separate Facebook post by Ryan Darsey, a staffer for City Councilmember Stephen Whitburn, that said: "There is a special place in hell for people who disgustingly lie to try and tear people down," in an apparent reference to Rodriguez-Kennedy's accuser.

"As far as the investigation, I feel like it needs to be from an outside entity," Williamson said.

Rodriguez-Kennedy's attorney, Gene Iredale, said in an interview with KPBS that his client was seeking to "live the principles that he espouses."

"Somebody made an accusation," Iredale said. "We're not going to trash them. We're not going to say anything bad about them. And we're going to allow them to be heard."

Iredale added: "At the appropriate time, we intend to make the evidence available to the people who will be judging it and who will be determining what the truth is."