San Clemente Councilman Steve Knoblock filed a police report on his colleague Gene James after a heated argument following Tuesday’s council meeting — alleging James put a hand on him.

The post-meeting argument came after Knoblock made a motion to strip James of his position as mayor pro-tem after James got into an argument with a sheriff deputy in June. 

While the position doesn’t grant a council member any extra power, it lets them function as the mayor in their absence. 

Knoblock said after most of the public had left the council chambers, James came over to him and wanted to speak. 

“After the meeting, he came over to me with his lips curled growling angrily saying ‘I want to talk to you right now,’” Knoblock said in a Wednesday phone call with Voice of OC. “I said you brought this on yourself. I turned around and he pulled my arm to turn me back around. I told him to keep his hands to himself and never touch me again.”

James declined to comment on the argument after the meeting, saying he wouldn’t speak on the issue publicly until he’d talked with the sheriffs’ department. 

Councilman Chris Duncan was also present for Tuesday’s argument, but said he didn’t see James put his hands on Knoblock. 

“It was heated, both of them were strongly advocating their positions, but it was nothing more than a heated discussion that I saw,” Duncan said in a phone call with Voice of OC. “I sort of participated or was present because I didn’t think they should be having that conversation behind the dais at the end of the meeting, but there was nothing else going on beyond usual.”

On Wednesday, a spokesman from the sheriff’s department wouldn’t confirm that Knoblock filed the report, instead saying any request to view the report had to go through the department’s records process. 

Knoblock called for James’ removal after multiple public commenters criticized his handling of a traffic stop in June, when James was pulled over for running a red light. 

After being pulled over, James repeatedly cursed at the officer, identifying himself as a city councilman and insisting that he’d been stopped on the orders of Captain Edward Manhart, the chief of the San Clemente branch for the sheriff’s department. 

“Of course I saw the red light. If you think I didn’t stop, let’s just go with that ok? Cause I know what this is about,” James said in response to the officer’s first question. “Your f***ing boss, Manhart.”

The officer insisted he didn’t know who James was and said he pulled him over just for passing through a red light without stopping, at which point James told him to “stop with the lecture.” 

To listen to the full 10 minute stop, click here.

While James wouldn’t talk about the fight, he apologized for his treatment of the officer. 

“This event was unfortunate, I take full accountability. I’ve apologized and I’ll do it again. It wasn’t me at my best,” James said in a Wednesday phone interview. “That’s about all I have to say.” 

Three weeks after the stop, the sheriff’s department announced that Manhart would be leaving the role of San Clemente police chief and transitioning to a new job overseeing the department’s Air Support Bureau. Manhart held the job for about two and a half years.  

Manhart was replaced by Captain Tony Benfield, a 24 year veteran of the department. 

The council will discuss whether or not to replace James as the mayor pro-tem at their next meeting on Oct. 5. Whether or not he is removed, he will hang onto his council seat. 

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

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