Civil filing accuses county supervisor candidate Jimmy Dutra of sexual abuse

Watsonville Mayor Jimmy Dutra
Jimmy Dutra during his 2021 stint as Watsonville’s mayor.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

In a filing in Santa Cruz Superior Court this week, Jimmy Dutra is accused of abuse in Los Angeles in 2005, when Dutra was 30 and plaintiff Stephen Siefke was 12. Dutra, a member of the Watsonville City Council, issued a statement saying the case, filed just before early voting for the 4th District County Supervisor seat begins, is without merit.

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Jimmy Dutra, an eight-year Watsonville City Council member and mayor in 2021, has been accused of sexual abuse of a minor in a civil case filed this week in Santa Cruz Superior Court. The news comes just one month before the Nov. 8 election that pits Dutra against Felipe Hernandez for the 4th District County Supervisor seat, as Greg Caput leaves that position.

The Oct. 5 filing alleges that the plaintiff, Stephen Siefke, then 12, was abused in the summer of 2005, when Dutra’s parents took Siefke on a vacation to Los Angeles, visiting Disneyland among other places. The Dutra and Siefke families, both Watsonville residents, knew each other well, the filing states. The complaint alleges that Jimmy Dutra, then 30 and living in Los Angeles, molested Siefke one evening. The filing of the charges was first reported by the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

In a statement to the media, Dutra said:

“It is completely disappointing in today’s age of politics that people are reverting to such unbelievable and appalling tactics. 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. We have grown accustomed to this type of nasty behavior in national politics, but this takes politics to a whole new low in our local commuinity. Let’s remember that how we campaign will determine how we govern and I choose to run a clean, positive campaign on the issues, not dirty politics. We put ourselves out there to serve our communities and I look forward to continuing to serve, which has always been my inspiration for running.”

Per court documents, the next proceeding in the matter will be a case management conference, scheduled for Feb. 3 at 8:30 a.m. in front of Judge Timothy Volkmann.

The filing says Siefke, now 29, “has been severely damaged. He has suffered with shame, guilt, low self-esteem, lack of self-worth, anxiety, depression, and other symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.” He asks for economic damages to be paid for his suffering and treatment, alleging “child sexual abuse, assault and sexual battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

Siefke said he came back to Santa Cruz County “within the past two years” and earlier this year saw yard signs and media reports of Dutra’s political ambitions.

On his Facebook page, Siefke explained the charges and their timing.

“To my friends and family -

“This is not politically motivated. This is motivated by pain. This is me healing and protecting innocent youth in our community. It is time for Jimmy to take accountability for robbing me of my innocence at 12 years old.

“Seeing his face on flyers and billboards everywhere I go has haunted me this last year. Finding out that he is working at a middle school after school program - has terrified me.

“No child should ever have to go through the trauma that I went through and if that means coming forward and telling my story, you best believe that’s what I am going to do.

“I kindly ask for you support during this extremely difficult and emotional process.”

The court filing provides more detail on what Siefke says prompted the case to be filed now:

“STEPHEN looked up JIMMY on Google and social media and was horrified to learn that JIMMY claims to be working as a ‘Middle School Lead Teacher with the Pajaro Valley Unified School District’s After School Program.’ lronically, he claims to be an ‘educator and President of Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance,’ by which he ensures that ‘mental health services’ are available to students who need it. The notion that a child molester like Defendant JIMMY DUTRA is hypocritically claiming that his work as a Middle School teacher with access to young children who need mental health services is a reason to elevate his political career is a large part of STEPHEN’s motivation to come forward publicly at this time.”

The reaction so far

The filing of the charges is a political bombshell.

Incoming Watsonville Mayor Eduardo Montesino declined to comment on the matter.

“I’m keeping my thoughts to myself,” he said.

Scotts Valley City Council Member Derek Timm said it made his stomach sick when he heard the news Thursday evening. Timm served as mayor while Dutra served as Watsonville mayor and became a supporter of Dutra’s run for supervisor.

“It’s just heartbreaking news,” Timm said. “I hope it’s not true and the timing really makes it feel politically motivated. At the same time, if someone was victimized and if what they’re saying is true ... that’s just truly heartbreaking.”

Both Montesino and Timm are among the 38 personal endorsements Dutra has listed on his campaign website. Neither had commented as of Friday afternoon on whether they plan to stick with Dutra.

Endorsements will be an urgent question for the supervisor candidate and his endorsers as voters will begin receiving mail-in ballots next week. Lookout has reached out to Dutra’s major organization endorsers, which include Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, the California School Employees Association, Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee and HonorPAC. None had responded as of Friday afternoon.

Dutra topped voting for the District 4 Santa Cruz County Supervisor seat in the June primary, winning 46% of the vote, and was expected to make a good showing against Felipe Hernandez, who gained 39% of the vote, on the Nov. 8 ballot. Dutra has long eyed the position, losing to Caput in the 2014 and 2018 elections.

The District 4 winner will replace Caput, a two-term incumbent who decided not to run for reelection. With major turnover underway on the county board, the new South County representative’s position could prove to be a pivotal one. Further, as new issues of affordability, growth, development and pesticides roil the Watsonville area, Caput’s replacement will be a key local political player.

Dutra’s education work

The allegations have prompted questions about Dutra’s work in local schools.

A spokesperson for the Pajaro Valley Unified School District said it is looking into the accusation and will take “appropriate next steps.”

“PVUSD holds our students’ safety as the highest priority and takes actions on such allegations immediately,” the district said in a statement provided to Lookout by spokesperson Alicia Jimenez. “PVUSD does not comment on employee matters.”

On his website, Dutra describes himself as a teacher and union member: “and now lead teacher for the after-school program for the Pajaro Valley Unified School District.”

Since 2019 and as recently as Sept. 1, Dutra has held several different permits, according to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing database. He currently has a permit that allows him to serve as a substitute teacher.

For the 2019-20 school year, he held a 30-day substitute-teaching permit and a short-term staff permit. From September 2020 through October 2021, he held a provisional internship permit. From August 2021 through September 2022, he held a 30-day substitute-teaching permit, which was then renewed through September 2023.

PVUSD told Lookout Friday afternoon that Dutra first taught at Pajaro Middle School before his current position at Lakeview Middle School as a substitute teacher in English Language Arts and for the after-school program.

Dutra is also the current board president of Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance — an organization that provides educational and mental health services to families in the Pajaro Valley. PVPSA interim CEO Jasmine Nájera said the board will have an emergency board meeting Wednesday afternoon.

This is a developing story. Check back with Lookout through the day.


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