Dutra’s accuser opens up: Stephen Siefke explains why he is coming forth now, 17 years later

Pictures shared by Stephen Siefke, who has filed a civil suit against Jimmy Dutra.
(Via Stephen Siefke)

When he was 12 years old, on a trip to Southern California with family friends, Stephen Siefke says his life changed in ways he is still trying to process 17 years later with the help of weekly therapy and a supportive family. He alleged in a civil suit filed last week, and to Lookout on Monday, that 4th District supervisor candidate Jimmy Dutra, then 30, sexually assaulted him on that trip.

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Stephen Siefke says that his bombshell lawsuit filed last week is about his own personal healing process and not about Jimmy Dutra’s political aspirations.

He acknowledges its likely impact on the Santa Cruz County Supervisor election, just one month away, but puts that within his own perspective. “Well, the timing sucks, but I also wasn’t expecting to be molested while I slept over at his house that night,” an emotional and unapologetic Siefke told Lookout on Monday.

In a filing in Santa Cruz Superior Court this week, Jimmy Dutra is accused of abuse in Los Angeles in 2005, when Dutra...

Siefke filed a civil suit last Wednesday alleging that the Watsonville City Council member and 4th District supervisor candidate Dutra molested him in 2005, when he was 12 and Dutra was 30, in Los Angeles.

“My No. 1 priority is to keep him out of schools,” the now-29-year-old said, accompanied by his attorney Dana Scruggs, a Santa Cruz-based personal injury attorney who specializes in sexual assault cases.

Siefke cites that concern as his primary objective in filing the suit and going public, and as the reason he says he gathered the courage to open the door on a painful chapter in his life.

“I find it so important to protect the youth of our community,” he said. “It’s something that didn’t happen that night for me; it’s no one’s fault. But if I can do something for other people, I’m going to.”

A Pajaro Valley Unified School District spokesperson confirmed Tuesday afternoon that Dutra is no longer working for the district. “I can confirm that PVUSD’s HR department received the claim and has taken appropriate next steps,” said Alicia Jimenez.

Jimmy Dutra.

Dutra, 47, first responded via a prepared statement he offered Friday. “These accusations are baseless and made solely to tarnish my reputation and campaign. And the timing of these allegations — three days before voting begins — make it very clear what is really going on,” the statement said.

Reached Tuesday and presented with Siefke’s statements in this article about his suitability as a teacher, Dutra provided an additional statement: “It is unfortunate the person making these accusations feels the need to now spin the original intent of his civil filing in order to try and change his narrative. I’m confident that the truth and justice will prevail.”

Dutra has served as a substitute teacher in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District and has been working in the after-school program at Lakeview Middle School.

Before the district’s confirmation, leadership at Dutra’s school indicated he was no longer there. Lakeview Principal Elaine Legorreta told Lookout she has been telling children who asked about Dutra that the school district “would work to find a suitable replacement.”

Dutra said he had been busy working on a delegation visit from Watsonville’s newest sister city, Velas, Portugal, and had yet to speak to anyone at PVUSD since the suit was filed.

Behind the accusation

Siefke said he shared his experience with five friends, his parents, his grandparents and his therapist in those early years as he processed what had occurred. He told more friends over the years.

Though Siefke said he does not recall his conversation with Susie McBride in the days after the alleged 2005 incident, her testimony could prove crucial when the case moves forward in February.

McBride was the then-partner of Jim Dutra Sr., Jimmy’s father. McBride and Dutra Sr., close family friends of Stephen Siefke’s parents, had taken the 12-year-old on a Southern California vacation trip, where they all stayed at Dutra Jr.’s place in Los Angeles.

The suit maintains that McBride recalls Siefke confiding in her days after the alleged incident, and says that asked by 12-year-old Stephen to maintain secrecy, she did. No one else would know, including his own parents, until he began opening up to others in high school, said Siefke and Scruggs.

Siefke said he began to relate his story, after acting out with alcohol and marijuana as a 15-year-old. Confronted by his mother, he said he then began the process of unpacking what had happened to him, in therapy.

I knew immediately that an adult shouldn’t be touching my penis, but I didn’t talk about it or understand why it happened until I was in high school.

— Stephen Siefke

“I knew immediately that an adult shouldn’t be touching my penis, but I didn’t talk about it or understand why it happened until I was in high school,” he said. “It was all very confusing for me. Once I started therapy, I was able to understand what had happened to me.”

Attorney Dana Scruggs.
(Via Dana Scruggs)

Siefke attended middle school and high school in Hawaii after a family move to the Big Island. He said that in high school he began opening up to many close friends about what had happened.

Scruggs, his attorney, says he reached out to at least 10 friends of Siefke’s, mostly from those high school years in Hawaii, who corroborated they had been told Stephen’s story years ago before taking on the case.

“I don’t file these lawsuits willy-nilly,” said Scruggs, who has been litigating cases involving sexual assault since 1985.

“I’ve always said the worst thing you can be is a child molester. The next worst is someone who accuses someone of that wrongly.”

Shattered bonds in Watsonville

Two large, prominent families of Pajaro Valley agriculture, the Dutras and Siefkes at one time were very close, sharing family vacations and even buying neighboring houses on Hawaii’s Big Island.

That’s why it wasn’t unusual for Siefke’s parents to send their 12-year-old on a Southern California trip that included Disneyland with their family friends Susie and Jim.

A young Stephen Siefke.
(Via Stephen Siefke)

But Siefke said the allegations he brought to his parents several years later — “they felt so much guilt for letting me go on that trip” — quickly shattered those bonds.

“My mom called my grandpa who then called Jim Dutra, and it became a whole big thing between our families,” Siefke recalls. “My mom was trying to push me to go to the cops and also prepare me for what that entails. It was too much for me. It was too painful. And so we tried to handle it privately. It ruined our families’ relationship together.”

For many years after high school, Siefke said he visited family members only once a year in Watsonville. He moved back to Watsonville two years ago, transferring from Seattle, working for a property management company.

After years of successful therapy that he began three years after the alleged incident, after he said he told his family about the alleged incident, Siefke says he felt ready to return home to where he still has 10 close family members, including his aging grandparents. The pandemic had made him appreciate being closer to family.

Returning to Watsonville

Upon coming home, Siefke said he knew then that Dutra was in politics, but he said he had no idea he was working with children.

“Then I find out he’s working with middle school kids … the same age as I was when this happened,” he told Lookout. ”And it just went from, ‘Wow, this is horrible,’ to, ‘I need to do something because it’s going to happen again.’ It just didn’t look right and gave me a really bad gut feeling.”

It just went from, “Wow, this is horrible,” to, “I need to do something because it’s going to happen again.”

— Stephen Siefke

His return coincided with a period of heavy Dutra exposure on front lawns and along boulevards in the Pajaro Valley because Dutra was running for the city council reelection that would lead to his mayoral stint in 2020-21. Siefke said that Dutra’s ever-present face acted as a trigger for what still hadn’t been resolved inside him.

“All of a sudden I was inundated with his face and his name. You drive down the street and can’t help but read the signs. In my head, it’s just like, ‘Jimmy Dutra, Jimmy Dutra, Jimmy Dutra’,” he said.

Watsonville City Council member and county supervisor candidate Jimmy Dutra
Watsonville City Council member and county supervisor candidate Jimmy Dutra.
(Via Jimmy Dutra)

Siefke said he thought his therapy had helped him simply “close that chapter and move on.” He said he didn’t realize how the now-omnipresent reminders would affect him. The more he thought about it, the more he knew he was finally ready to put himself out there, he said.

“I didn’t want to go through this process, I didn’t want to go public, I didn’t want to go to court,” he said. “But now it was in my face and it was like, ‘You’ve got to do something because if you don’t, you’re going to carry the guilt when those other kids come forward.’”

You’ve got to do something because if you don’t, you’re going to carry the guilt when those other kids come forward.

— Stephen Siefke

Siefke said he has little knowledge of local politics, and would have a hard time deciphering how a county supervisor’s duties differ from a city mayor’s.

The registered Democrat, who said he’s never met Dutra’s opponent, Felipe Hernandez, called Dutra’s response to his suit the “typical politician distract-and-deflect where he doesn’t say he didn’t do it.”

“He didn’t say anything about, ‘I had no sexual contact with this person.’ He just called it baseless, which means there are no facts,” Siefke said. “But there are facts. My therapy record. The friends and family I told.

“This isn’t just something I made up because I don’t want Jimmy Dutra in our small-town community supervisor position. I love this community.”

Siefke’s path

Experts say there is no normal timetable for victims of sexual assault, especially prepubescent victims, to come forth with an accusation — if they ever do.

Stephen Siefke with his longtime partner, Blaze (right).
(Via Stephen Siefke)

Siefke describes a path of recovering from early confusion and shame, feeling as if he’d gotten over it and healed, only to be re-triggered by his return to Watsonville two years ago. Watching Dutra’s election-season presence spring back again this year with his run for supervisor pushed him over the edge, Siefke said.

“It became so hard to get through a day without thinking about it,” he said. “And feeling like, ‘Oh my God, why am I going through these emotions again? I thought I dealt with this.’”

Siefke said he gives credit to his supportive family and the therapists who have helped him sort through a very difficult period in his life. He said it was his first therapist, to whom he came out to as being gay, who gave him the strength to tell his parents.

“I remember this tremendous weight being lifted off my chest,” he said. “They were so cool about it.”

He attributes that support to having a longtime healthy relationship, now of 13 years, with his partner, Blaze. He also admits the attention Dutra received for being Watsonville’s first openly gay mayor had struck a sensitive nerve with him.

“It felt like a slap in the face because this isn’t someone representing our community properly,” Siefke said. “I’ve had a partner for 13 years, and I know what the gay community is about. It’s not about people who take advantage of children.”

Lookout education reporter Hillary Ojeda contributed to this report.

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