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October 1, 2022
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Judge rules former mayor’s husband not a threat

A woman who tried to get a permanent restraining order against the husband of a current Los Gatos Council member lost her legal bid April 22.

And despite testimony from multiple people claiming they heard Jeffrey Scott, who is married to former mayor Marico Sayoc, threaten to kill Cyndi Sheehan, the petitioner—and even after watching a video of the incident several times—a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge said there was no proof he said anything of the sort.

When Judge Eric S. Geffon arrived in his courtroom, he asked Sheehan for a doctor’s note proving she skipped the previous trial date for a valid reason, as ordered.

But Sheehan said she wouldn’t produce this, calling it a privacy violation.

So Nicole Ford, one of Scott’s lawyers, moved for dismissal right off the bat.

And while Geffon allowed the trial to proceed, he did note concerns with Sheehan’s credibility.

Sheehan clashed with Scott outside Council Chambers Oct. 5 while Sayoc was still mayor.

Ford asked for the video of her client storming into the Town building and screaming at protesters be excluded, since Sheehan hadn’t provided a transcription.

Sheehan, representing herself, said she would have if someone told her this was required.

Geffon noted he has discretion to allow videos without transcription to be used as evidence.

Sheehan’s testimony

Including witnesses, Sheehan had assembled a group of 15 supporters in Santa Clara County Superior Court.

She called herself as a witness first.

Sheehan described a fast-moving scene where an angry Scott charged into the lobby so aggressively, he might have ended her life had he not been stopped.

“He threatened to kill me more than once,” she said, testifying that she’s so traumatized by the incident she’s now plagued by negative visions and back pain. “I do believe the assault was premeditated.”

Sheehan says she’s since purposely avoided Council meetings and other gatherings, which has constrained her freedom.

“My life was threatened in the presence of police officers,” she said. “I’m now apprehensive doing day-to-day tasks.”

Ford began her cross-examination by inquiring about her exchanges with Scott’s son over social media.

Sheehan admitted she’d sent the teenager the first direct message but claimed he, and other local children, had followed her Instagram account first.

She also claimed that people associated with Black Lives Matter and gay, lesbian and transgender rights movements released private information about her, which led to her losing her job.

“I want to let them know that I’m fighting for their rights,” she said.

Ford asked Sheehan if, in retrospect, she believes it was OK that she discussed the subject of the sexual orientation of Scott’s son during the Council meeting’s public comment period.

“Not relevant,” Sheehan said, making a formal objection to the question so she wouldn’t have to answer.

But the judge overruled her.

So, she repeated part of what she’d said in the Council meeting word-for-word.

Sheehan claimed Scott threatened to kill her multiple times.

Jim Zanardi took to the stand and claimed Scott said “You f****** piece of s*** I’m going to kill you.”

Zanardi said he’d attended the meeting in question to support the police department.

Lynley Hogan said she was “leading” a group of people out of Council Chambers when Scott burst in.

“He was extremely upset,” she said. “I just saw this man coming at me.”

She testified that Scott said, “I’m gonna kill her” and, “Where is she? Where is she?”

Ford asked about an interview Hogan gave to the Los Gatan in which she said a restraining order might not have been necessary had Scott just apologized, suggesting this proved Sheehan wasn’t really afraid for her life.

Sheehan objected to this line of questioning, and the judge told Ford to move on.

Ford asked if Hogan feels it’s OK to mention someone’s sexuality during a Council meeting.

At first she said it’s irrelevant, that it wasn’t grounds for Scott’s actions.

But upon further questioning she said, actually, she believes it is acceptable during Verbal Communications.

“I would consider this free speech,” she said, adding in her opinion the mayor’s supposed offense was “promoting LGBTQ” while on Council.

Scott responds

The first witness for the defense was Scott himself. He appeared in a blue suit and spoke calmly—and for the first time—about the incident that sparked the civil harassment trial.

“I was at home watching the Council meeting on YouTube,” he said, adding he was alarmed to see two public commenters start discussing his son. “They both spoke about my son’s sexuality.”

He pointed out another woman, who previously identified herself as Eden Berg, sitting in the courtroom as the other offender.

“They knew he was a child,” he said. “It was sadistic.”

Scott said he immediately closed the laptop, put on his shoes and headed down to the Council meeting, with the intention of speaking during Verbal Communications.

He testified that he was unaware his wife had called a recess. But when he arrived there were already people outside and in the vestibule. That’s when he spotted Sheehan.

“I said, ‘Hey you,’” he testified. “‘Don’t ever talk about my son, ever…You worthless piece of s***.’”

He admitted to repeating this phrasing multiple times.

“I never used the word ‘kill,’” he said. “I never tried to throw a punch.”

To this day he’s never been arrested in his life, he added.

Scott said he was also angered that Sheehan claimed his son was part of a hate group.

“I found that particularly galling,” he said, noting his son recently participated in an event to welcome refugees to the South Bay, and served food to homeless people at Christmas.

The next witness, Lee Fagot, said he’d been trying to understand what the protesters were so worked up about when Scott arrived at the recessed Council meeting.

“His message was, ‘Stop doing what you’re doing,’” he said, adding there was shouting on both sides. “There was a lot of anger being expressed.”

Fagot testified that he doesn’t remember Scott making threats or returning to the Council building more than once, as Sheehan claimed.

Rob Moore, when called to the stand, said the public commenters had been discussing topics that didn’t pertain to Town business.

“The dialog got to the point that the Council had to stop the meeting,” he said. “The comments were targeting children and town people because of their identity.”

He said he never heard Scott make any threats.

Vice Mayor Maria Ristow was called; she noted she’s friends with Scott’s family.

She says the incident sprung out of months where a group of people who opposed coronavirus mask mandates frequently brought the subject up at Council meetings, despite this not being within the Town’s jurisdiction.

The group made wild accusations about the local government ushering in a “communist regime” and being involved with “organ harvesting,” without any proof, but in the Oct. 5 meeting they went even further, she said.

“I’ve never seen such egregious behavior,” she said. “Total disrespect.”

Ristow was with Sayoc in a side hallway when the commotion started.

Ristow, too, said she never heard Scott utter any threats.

She described feeling powerless in the moment.

“There was nothing I could do that would help the situation,” she said, adding she heard Sheehan try to provoke Scott by saying, “Go ahead, hit me. You know you want to hit me.”

The verdict

Ford said Sheehan’s own evidence proves that not only did Scott never utter threats, but that she initiated contact with a minor and then discussed his personal life in public.

And she focused her attention on a court case that ruled a single incident was not enough to necessitate a restraining order if the threat of future violence wasn’t real.

That’s the standard the judge ultimately used to decide the case.

“This case is not about politics,” Geffon said, noting it’s a simple matter of Sheehan proving there’s a chance Scott could do something similar again. “The petitioner has the burden.”

And so, the court had to look at the circumstances of the incident, he explained.

“It’s not just enough if someone punches someone one day,” he said, referring to the case law highlighted by Scott’s lawyers. “That case speaks to what the court has to find.”

And while he mostly steered well clear of the various undercurrents surrounding the verbal melee, he did admonish Sheehan for her behavior at Los Gatos Town Council.

It was “inexplicable” why she would bring up the sexuality of a minor during Verbal Communications, he said.

“There is no legitimate purpose for that to be discussed,” he said, adding this very fact makes it unlikely Scott would ever be provoked to such anger again.

And, after watching the video of Scott’s aggressive statements multiple times, as far as he could tell, it “does not contain a verbal threat,” he said. “The court is going to deny the request for a protective order at this time.”

Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to dp[email protected]