The Democratic Party of Orange County Monday night suspended its endorsement of Santa Ana City Council candidate Phil Bacerra, who is accused by a former girlfriend of physical and emotional abuse.

The decision came after an investigation commissioned by the party found no independent evidence substantiating claims of physical violence committed by Bacerra, but did find evidence of verbal abuse Bacerra and his ex-girlfriend directed at each other, according to a person close to the party who is familiar with the findings and described them on the condition the person is not named.

The findings were presented to the party’s central committee, which voted 34-to-10 Monday night to suspend its endorsement of Bacerra.

“The Democratic Party of Orange County takes allegations of abuse seriously,” said a party statement provided by its communications director, Rachel Potucek.

“After conducting a thorough investigation with full participation of both parties, the central committee voted to suspend its endorsement of Mr. Bacerra for Santa Ana City Council Ward 4 at this time.”

The official action was to suspend the endorsement, and there are no further Central Committee meetings scheduled before the Nov. 6 election. The party’s rules set a 60 percent threshold among Central Committee members to suspend an endorsement.

Bacerra, through a statement, said he was disappointed in the decision, and accused unnamed party leaders of “working directly with” his opponent.

“After being a lifelong Democrat, like many others, I’m very disappointed in my party. Even after an independent, thorough, and impartial investigation — which I cooperated with fully — was completed and found no proof of these claims and issued a report that came back inconclusive, some members of the county party leadership, who are working directly with my opponent, continued to participate in this cheap political theater,” Bacerra said in the statement.

“Those in the party from other parts of OC who believe that Santa Ana should continue to host a needle distribution program and want to threaten our quality of life to benefit of their own, have taken over the party’s process and seek to punish me for standing up for our city’s residents.”

The county Democratic Party now has no endorsement in the Ward 4 race, which pits Bacerra, who is a former planning commissioner, against former Councilman Roman Reyna.

Reyna was accused of plagiarizing his endorsement questionnaire by copying the answers of an ally, Councilman Sal Tinajero, who is running for mayor in November.

The suspension of Bacerra’s endorsement shouldn’t imply an endorsement of any candidate in the Ward 4 race, said the person close to the party who spoke on condition on anonymity.

The party’s investigation report was considered confidential to respect both sides’ privacy, the person said, and was presented to the party’s executive committee. The party’s chairwoman, Fran Sdao, also reported the investigation’s findings to all of the Central Committee members voting on whether to suspend the endorsement, the person added.

Griselda Govea, who had an on-and-off relationship with Bacerra from January 2007 until 2012, publicly accused him in early October of spitting in her face and throwing her against walls. She also told the OC Weekly and Voice of OC that Bacerra kicked dirt into her face after attending a USC football game.

“Phil threw me up against the walls of his apartment slamming me on the ground,” Govea wrote in an Oct. 3 Facebook post. “When I tried to escape his violent tirade and ran toward the door he ripped my clothes off me.”

Bacerra has said the relationship was unhealthy, but denied he has ever been violent towards Govea or any other women.

Over the last two weeks, Govea has appeared in campaign ads against Bacerra funded by a group supporting his opponent. The campaign committee paying for the ads was formed Oct. 12, under the name “Californians for Ethical Patient Care, Yes on Tinajero, Sarmiento and Reyna and No on Bacerra, 2018.”

The group has funded a website called Me Too Phil and Facebook ads that criticize Bacerra and feature edited videos of Govea describing alleged abuse by him. The videos end with text saying “Santa Ana Deserves Better Than Phil Bacerra.”

This week, Santa Ana voters received mailers, funded by the group, calling Baccera “an abuser of women,” and pointing to Govea’s allegations.

The committee has not yet disclosed any of its donors, but is required to do so by Thursday.

Contact Nick Gerda at ngerda@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter @nicholasgerda.

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