The arrest of high-profile San Francisco political consultant Enrique Pearce in May of 2015 made waves until it didn't, with a bust for over 4,902 images of children in sexual situations leading to allegations that Pearce had 1) stolen a parking meter and 2) was filming unwitting children for his own pleasure at situations like SF's rally honoring the Giants' World Series win in 2014. And now, it appears, he's facing a chilling sentence — three months, to be spent at home, despite the objections of local law enforcement.
Released on bond shortly after his arrest, Pearce, who was the man behind campaigns for local political figures like Mayor Ed Lee, Supes Jane Kim and Norman Yee, former Supe Christina Olague, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland, and Board of Education members Sandra Lee Fewer and Hydra Mendoza, has remained free since then, as proceedings against him dragged on and on.
News of his plea deal broke late in the day on the Friday before Christmas — a lucky break for the politico, for sure, to have the news of his guilty plea come out on arguably the least-likely-to-get-coverage day of the year. But it wasn't until December 23 that Pearce "pleaded guilty to two counts of distributing child pornography, one count of buying or receiving stolen property and one count of possession or control of child pornography with allegations of possessing more than 600 images of someone under 18 and possessing matter that portrayed sexual sadism or sexual masochism involving someone under 18," according to court documents reported on by Bay City News, as opposed to the six felonies he initially faced.
Pearce's luck continued to hold Wednesday morning, when the Chron reported that "In a move that went largely under the radar, retired Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Rene Navarro, who is on temporary assignment in San Francisco, signaled that he intends to sentence Pearce to just six months of home detention."
With good behavior, Pearce would only serve half that time.
The District Attorney's office, which negotiated the deal with Pearce's counsel, said that there was nothing they could do to derail Navarro's plan, as "under state rules, they didn’t get a say-so in the plea deal — Pearce could simply admit to all four charges against him in court once Navarro told him what the likely sentence would be." Hopes that the Feds might take over the case were also dashed, as “The U.S. attorney and FBI won’t touch a case unless there are (several thousand) child porn images involved.”
Interestingly enough, it's Navarro who paved the way for judges to overrule prosecutors' plea deals, the Chron reports. In 2010, Navarro "planned to sentence a man convicted of check forging to five years in prison. Santa Clara County prosecutors wanted a longer term and appealed all the way to the state Supreme Court," which decided that "judges can’t bargain directly with defendants, but can resolve a case by telling a defendant what the sentence would be if he pleads guilty to all charges." (So forging checks gets you five years in jail, child porn gets you three months at home. OK!)
It appears, however, that the San Francisco Sheriff's Department can at least temporarily do what the DA cannot, as Bay City News reports that they are refusing to play ball with the sentence, which includes five years of probation.
"The sheriff’s department was not willing to approve Pearce for its electronic monitoring program," BCN reports, a roadblock that delays his sentencing and forces his defense team to find "an alternative program that can provide the monitoring."
That's because, the Chron reports, under Sheriff’s Department policies, "People convicted of child pornography, perpetrators of domestic violence and some other categories of criminals don’t qualify for electronic monitoring in San Francisco."
“We do not authorize electronic monitoring for charges in this case,” Sheriff's Department spokesperson Eileen Hirst tells the Chron.
“The judge may check a box on a sentencing document indicating an alternative sentence to jail is approved, but the jail ultimately has the authority for protecting public safety and determining the most appropriate sentence for an individual.”
“Obviously we agree with the sheriff’s department,” DA's spokesperson Max Szabo told BCN. “We thought that prison time was a more appropriate sentence.”
According to the Chron, this move is unlikely to end with Pearce going to jail, as "the judge could pull an end run around the sheriff by releasing Pearce under his own recognizance on the condition he submit to electronic monitoring outside the sheriff’s authority."
Until his rescheduled sentencing hearing, Pearce will remain free on bail. That new hearing is scheduled for Friday, March 10, but I'd suggest interested parties keep their eye on the news breaking right before any upcoming holiday weekends, just in case.