Hollister City Council candidate Raul Escareno finished a 300-day sentence in late June for felony driving under the influence with three prior DUI convictions, according to Santa Cruz County court records.
When asked Thursday about the sentence, which he served at home on electronic monitoring, Escareno acknowledged a more recent conviction for DUI and at first claimed he had one prior DUI conviction on his record before that.
It turns out, court records indicate Escareno had three prior convictions before the most recent one.
“It was just a DUI,” Escareno said when asked initially about his criminal past. “I got that probably like four years ago, but I just got sentenced in 2017. I had opened a business so I needed a couple things to go through. I didn’t have to serve any jail time. It was matter of the wrong place at the wrong time. Nobody got injured. Nobody got hurt.”
But in fact, Santa Cruz County prosecutors charged him with DUI and three prior convictions in February 2017, and Escareno served a home confinement sentence with monitoring, meaning he had to wear an electronic device and was restricted on his whereabouts outside of the home. His understanding was that once he served his time, the felony conviction would be dropped to a misdemeanor, although it’s still listed as a felony in Santa Cruz County’s online records.
“We all make mistakes,” Escareno said.
Following that initial interview shortly before noon Thursday, San Benito Live discovered court records indicating Escareno actually had three prior convictions before his most recent DUI, not one prior conviction as he’d claimed, and contacted the candidate a second time.
“I’m not going to comment on it anymore,” Escareno said when asked to clarify on the records showing the felony DUI with three prior convictions.
Asked why he said he had one prior DUI conviction, and Escareno responded: “I didn’t lie. I didn’t say the total amount.”
Escareno said it’s not important how many DUIs he has on his record. He refused to answer questions about other DUIs.
“Nobody needs to know that,” he said. “I didn’t hurt anybody. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
In Santa Cruz County, records show DUI convictions for Escareno stemming from cases filed in March 2016 and the most recent one in February 2017.
He would not comment on the accuracy of those 2017 records showing Raul Escareno, with the same birth year and the same attorney, had the four DUI convictions and recently served a 300-day sentence on electronic monitoring.
“I don’t need to tell you how many I’ve gotten,” he replied.
He also would not answer whether he’s spent time in jail for other arrests.
“That’s for you to find out,” he said. “I’m not eager to win, so it doesn’t matter how much dirt you can get on me.”
Escareno, 30, is running for the District 3 city council seat held by Councilman Karson Klauer, who is not seeking reelection after one term in office. Escareno is owner of Mangia Italian Kitchen on Airline Highway in Hollister.
One other candidate for the post, Honor Spencer, has qualified for the ballot, while two others pulled papers to run but have yet to return the documents and finish the qualifying process before next Wednesday’s deadline in that district. A race’s deadline is extended beyond Friday’s normal nomination deadline if an incumbent remains out of the contest.
It appears for now that Escareno remains eligible to run despite the convictions. Online court records show he received a felony conviction for the latest incident, but even that wouldn’t necessarily bar him from running for office or voting, local elections officials said.
Hollister City Clerk Christine Black when informed of Escareno’s conviction issue said she requested information on Escareno from San Benito County Deputy Clerk Angela Curro, who oversees day-to-day election issues in the county under Clerk Joe Paul Gonzalez.
Black said Escareno’s eligibility checked out. Curro told San Benito Live there are several factors beyond felony convictions that determine a person’s eligibility to run or vote. The clerk’s office has access to statewide database information from the secretary of state that can help the determination process.
Escareno is on probation for three years following his sentence, but that wouldn’t necessarily keep him from voting or running, either, Curro said.
“Have they served their time? Are they on probation? There are lots of rules and stipulations on what defines your right to vote as opposed to being a felon. It’s an area that is very legal and technical, and I try not to dive too much into it. What we do here, we receive a felon list from the state and we do process and compare those to our database.”
The county clerk does not go as far as investigating individual candidates in other election jurisdictions such as the City of Hollister, which oversees its elections through the clerk’s office.
“We informed the city clerk of the information we obtained from the superior court and we gave options what they could do,” Curro said. “We are not the election official. If somebody wants to challenge that, that would be a challenge that would go through the city clerk’s office.”
In the case of Escareno, Curro said her office requested that information from the superior court for the city, but his records would not show up in that database because the local system covers just this county and there is no statewide database available to the general public detailing criminal convictions in California.
Each county maintains its own database of criminal records, while some communities like Santa Cruz County also provide online records.
Those online records show that after his most recent DUI arrest — Escareno said it happened in the Aromas area — prosecutors charged him on Feb. 10, 2017 alleging felony DUI with three prior convictions, driving with a suspended license, and possessing an open alcohol container while driving. He refused to provide more details on the other convictions.
He pleaded guilty/no contest to DUI with three priors and had the other charges dismissed, according to records.
He was sentenced to the 300 days of electronic monitoring and three years of probation with formal supervision, and was ordered to enter a DUI program.
A Santa Cruz County sheriff’s spokesman, Sgt. Brian Cleveland, was not immediately available to provide more specific information on the arrests, details of which are not available in online records.