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Local Democratic Party chairman responds to lawsuit over alleged sexual assault

Editor's Note: The following story includes a description of a sexual assault, which some readers may find disturbing.

Oscar Rendon, a 23-year-old community college student, has identified himself as the man accusing Will Rodriguez-Kennedy of sexual assault.

In a lawsuit filed in San Diego Superior Court this week, Rendon accuses Rodriguez-Kennedy, the 34-year-old chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party, of taking him home after a night of heavy drinking in August 2021 and having sex with him while Rendon was too drunk to consent.

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"Because of his state of intoxication, Rendon does not remember the drive to Kennedy's apartment and remembers little else before awaking around 3 a.m. (as Kennedy penetrated him)," the lawsuit states. "Rendon was so intoxicated that he could not resist and instead lay still on his side."

In an interview with KPBS, Rendon said he had told Rodriguez-Kennedy earlier in the evening, while he was sober, that he was not interested in sex.

"I do feel like he took advantage of me when I was in a vulnerable situation, unable to make a conscious decision about whether or not I wanted to go home with him and whether or not I wanted to allow him to have intercourse with me," Rendon said in the interview.

Rodriguez-Kennedy, who took leave from his position atop the local Democratic Party after the allegations came to light in May, has consistently denied any wrongdoing. He held a press conference Friday in which he played a roughly five-minute audio recording he made of the sex act in question.

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One of Rodriguez-Kennedy's attorneys, Gene Iredale, said the recording shows that Rendon was sober enough to consent to sex and that Rodriguez-Kennedy made the recording secretly because he suspected Rendon would later accuse him of assault.

"Today, I am being forced to sacrifice my dignity and privacy to prove that my ex-boyfriend has falsely accused me of a crime that I did not commit," Rodriguez-Kennedy said. "It has become clear that his intent is malicious and has been designed to cause maximum emotional and political pain."

Included in the lawsuit is a police report Rendon filed in March. The San Diego County District Attorney's Office said last week it had investigated the allegations and decided not to file charges against Rodriguez-Kennedy.

While criminal prosecutions require proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, civil lawsuits must convince jurors the allegations are more likely to be true than untrue. Rendon, who is represented by attorney Dan Gilleon, seeks unspecified damages.

The suit also names San Diego City Councilmember Stephen Whitburn as a defendant, claiming that Whitburn, who is Rodriguez-Kennedy's roommate, was present on the night of the alleged assault and failed to intervene. Whitburn's attorney, Will Moore, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The San Diego County Democratic Party said in May that it would launch an investigation into the alleged assault. It later said it would await the conclusion of the law enforcement investigation before continuing with its own probe. Rendon said earlier this week that the party had not yet reached out to hear his side of the story.

"Our process in this matter is ongoing, and the party is consulting with our legal counsel on next steps," acting party chairwoman Rebecca Taylor said in an email.

Rendon and Rodriguez-Kennedy initially matched on Tinder in April 2020, according to the lawsuit. Rendon told KPBS he long held an interest in politics and that he was initially drawn to Rodriguez-Kennedy in part because of his involvement in local politics.

But now, Rendon said, he is reluctant to get involved in politics for fear of encountering Rodriguez-Kennedy's supporters.

"I have a lot more social anxiety, and I feel like I want to engage less in local politics and I want to be less present in spaces where I may be involved, or questioned, or around individuals who may support this person," Rendon said.

Rendon said he did not immediately file a police report because the experience left him confused and traumatized. He said he ultimately decided to report the incident to police, and to later file the lawsuit, because he wanted an official record of what happened and feared if he later spoke about the alleged assault, he would not be believed.

"I want there to be justice," Rendon told KPBS. "I didn't do this with any other intention but to document and to make sure that I can find protection for myself."

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