209 Times founder Motec Sanchez must not harass, intimidate or physically attack Stockton City Councilmember Brando Villapudua, says a court-ordered restraining order issued last week.
According to San Joaquin County Superior Court documents, Villapudua claims Sanchez harassed him for not supporting the ousting of Stockton City Manager Harry Black at a special meeting earlier this month. He also accuses several fellow councilmembers, including Mayor Kevin Lincoln, of violating California open meeting laws by allegedly discussing closed-session business with Sanchez.
Villapudua filed a request for a civil harassment restraining order March 16. The request was partially approved by Court Commissioner Tameem Mardini the following day and is to remain in effect through the afternoon of May 4, when another hearing on the matter is scheduled.
The document, available online through the court’s public records portal, outlines Villapudua’s reasoning to request the order, which includes allegations that Sanchez verbally harassed the city councilmember at a local restaurant following the meeting in question and showing up at his son’s school at a later date.
“I believe that I am being followed and that M. Sanchez is harassing me in a threatening manner to force me to support the removal of the city manager (and) others,” Villapudua wrote in his restraining order request.
Villapudua sent a statement to Stocktonia on Wednesday afternoon stating his reasons for filing the restraining order.
“My concern is not just for my safety, but the safety of our city and our constituents when there is a willful negligence violating the integrity of the city for personal gain,” his statement read. “My oath is to not just serve, but to protect our city. I hope to have the support of our city as we investigate the Brown Act violations of the March 1, 2023 closed session and hold those accountable for such violations.”
In his court filing, Villapudua says Sanchez threatened that if Villapudua did not comply with his demands to oust certain city employees “that misleading information will be pushed to the media.”
The temporary restraining order prohibits Sanchez from harassing, intimidating or physically attacking Villapudua, as well as destroying the councilmember’s personal property or disturbing his peace. Sanchez is also not to “(take) any action to obtain (Villapudua’s) address or location.”
The court denied Villapudua’s request to bar Sanchez from contacting him in any way or coming within 100 yards — known as “stay-away orders” — of his person, home, job or workplace, children’s school or vehicle, as well as Stockton City Hall, Council chambers and meetings, or city events.
A request to include City Planning Commissioner Gurneel Boparai, who was reportedly present with Villapudua when he was confronted by Sanchez at the restaurant, under the protection was also denied.
Sanchez, who has run for public office on multiple occasions, stated he would not answer direct questions from Stocktonia but planned to release a public statement on the allegations sometime Wednesday. He claims he has a video proving Villapadua’s account of the incident at the restaurant was “false.”
According to the restraining order request, Sanchez texted Villapudua at about 2:30 p.m on March 1 that Sanchez was “hoping you do the right thing and help move our city forward.” An alleged copy of the text itself was included in Villapudua’s request as evidence.
Villapudua says there was a closed session meeting scheduled that day “to address Executive Management.” According to the Council’s online meeting archive, the agenda for a special meeting held that day had just three items listed for closed session that included a “public employee discipline/dismissal/release” relating to the city clerk and two items described as “public employee performance evaluation,” one of which concerned the “City Manager.”
The special meeting was scheduled for 12:30 p.m. and lasted approximately four hours. Therefore, the alleged text from Sanchez would have been sent to Villapudua during the meeting, though Villapudua said in court filings it was sent prior to the meeting.
Councilmembers Michele Padilla and Kimberley Warmsley in addition to Mayor Lincoln possibly provided information to Sanchez, Villapudua alleges, noting that the mayor and council members could be seen using their cellphones during the meeting and receiving texts.
“During this closed meeting I felt that there were clear violations of the Brown Act because … Sanchez was aware of what was taking place during the meeting,” Villapudua says in the restraining order request. “Upon the commencement of the closed meeting, a ‘NON-Council Member’ already knew the conclusion of the meeting.”
Councilmember Warmsley said that her fellow councilmember and colleague “has every right” to go through whatever legal process he chooses to protect his safety. But she took issue with how she has been characterized in the court filing.
“However, I’m very concerned. I’m very disappointed that he has chosen to reference me as his colleague in his complaint in an inadequate and unfavorable way,” Warmsley told Stocktonia Wednesday afternoon. “What happens in closed session, what’s discussed in closed session is confidential and it’s protected under the Brown Act.”
The Brown Act is a state law requiring government meetings and decision making be open to the public. David Snyder, executive director of The First Amendment Coalition, says provisions in the California law dictate that members of a public government body, such as a city council, are not typically permitted to divulge closed session discussions to the public.
“Generally, matters that are discussed in closed session are not to be disclosed outside the closed session,” Snyder told Socktonia Wednesday morning.
Mayor Lincoln and Councilmember Padilla did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Councilmember Dan Wright, who represents District 2, said he was not aware of the partial temporary restraining order issued against Sanchez and would not comment. He also declined to discuss anything which happened at the closed session but said any possibility of a violation of the Brown Act must be taken seriously.
“We’re a council of seven people. If anyone violates the closed door meeting rules, it’s a violation of trust,” Wright told Stocktonia Wednesday. “If it is proven, it should be addressed to the fullest extent.”
Immediately following the March 1 meeting, Villapudua wrote in court filings that he went to Valley Brew restaurant on Stockton’s Miracle Mile, whereupon arrival Sanchez “rushed in right behind me” and “approached aggressively with his phone up and (recording) yelling about the closed session items.”
“(Sanchez) began verbally attacking and became physically aggressive in such a quick manner,” Villapudua wrote, that longtime 209 Times contributor Frank Gayaldo, who was allegedly also at the restaurant, “had to physically restrain (Sanchez) by putting his body between the two of us” when the councilmember verbalized that he felt unsafe.
Sanchez disputes Villapudua’s version and told Stocktonia Wednesday morning that Gayaldo is his witness.
During the alleged confrontation, Villapudua said in court documents, Sanchez asked Villapudua why he wanted to keep Black as city manager, describing Villapudua as “the fourth vote” and threatening to come after Villapudua.
According to the meeting’s annotated agenda, no actionable items for closed session were reported once a public session convened afterward, and a vote is not mentioned in any other agenda documents for the special meeting.
Stockton City Attorney Lori Asuncion said that, according to California law, if an action had been taken on anyone’s employment status, such as a dismissal or the Council accepting a resignation, it would have been reported during the proceeding public session. Asuncion, who was not present during the closed session discussions March 1, says this would not include a failed vote as it does not change anything.
“The council had a discussion, whatever it was, and when I came back in there was nothing to report,” Asuncion told Stocktonia.
She explained that city staff are only present during Council closed session meetings when necessary to the immediate discussion, such as to present information or answer questions.
Villapudua said in court documents that Sanchez and others continued to threaten and follow him after the events of March 1.
“With the actions of Motecuzoma Sanchez and his lack of respect, I fear that (he) will continue to harass and ultimately harm me should (the) actions of harassment, threat, and political extortion not be addressed,” Villapudua said in court documents.
A second hearing on Villapudua’s civil harassment restraining order request is scheduled for May 4 at 1:30 p.m. in Stockton.