Nadia Maria Davis Lockyer's Comeback
Photo: John Gilhooley | Design: Dustin Ames
This is how I introduce myself to Nadia Maria Davis Lockyer, though I've known her a long time. It's been at least 15 years, since back when this paper and she were young, back when we gladly, gratefully and, in one case, wonderfully used each other.
Because of that, she has agreed to meet me at the coffeehouse across from her son's school. There have been other calls, other requests, she says—"Oprah's network and 20/20"—but she's turned them down. Still, there has been a part of her that has, since that night in the motel where Nadia says she was assaulted, yearned to give her side of things. That wasn't possible then—law enforcement took her immediately to treatment where she remained for a month and a half, unable to communicate while the man she says assaulted her and introduced her to meth and blackmailed her with two sex tapes was free to talk to whoever he wanted.
"They printed all his words," she says, "and I got suicidal."
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She had taken a seat near the coffeehouse door, and I walked over and extended my hand. I had never actually met her, not in person. She had always been a name (Nadia Maria Davis, Nadia Davis Lockyer), a name and an issue (education, Arthur Carmona, Santa Ana), a name and a description (beautiful, young, committed), a name and a relationship (Wally Davis' daughter, Bill Lockyer's wife), a name and a promise (star, someday, soon).
The Nadia I shook hands with looked very different from the one I had seen weeks before in a local news report from a Northern California station. She had appeared pale and uncomfortable going through the compulsory paces of TV news—Here I am, walking by myself, for no apparent reason, directly toward a film crew I'm pretending to not notice—and she spoke about how happy she was to be in Long Beach, how the focus of her life was her son, Diego, how grateful she was that her sister, Anja, had called the cops when she discovered that Nadia had drug paraphernalia in the bedroom she shared with her son in Anja's home.
This Nadia looked and sounded healthier. Her handshake was firm. When I invited her to sit at my table, she walked confidently, set down her purse, leaned forward and began to talk. I leaned forward and listened. We remained like that for two and a half hours, my mouth sometimes tumbling agape, her hands sometimes cradling her head, the two of us acting out what must have appeared to the patrons of Viento y Agua to be the most intense eHarmony date ever.
I did notice something she had spoken about on the phone before our meeting: the right side of her face, despite the makeup, was noticeably bruised, the result of a rollerblading accident, and I wondered about the odds of someone metaphorically hitting bottom also doing so on their face. Also, rollerblading?
Sometimes she apologized for going on too long, sometimes for going in too many directions. She paused only to check whether it was time to place herself on the playground bench at Diego's school. He expects her to be sitting on the bench every afternoon when he rounds the last school building, and nothing in her day takes precedent over that.
"When I was arrested, when they took me away, I remember he was on the couch; I can see his elbows on the back of the couch, watching them taking me away, looking into his eyes. That tore me to pieces. Since then, I've been hyper-vigilant with him that if I say I'm going to be somewhere, I am."
So this had been the one ground rule for this interview: We break for the bench.
Besides that, she talked. She talked and talked, apologizing intermittently for talking so much, then went on to talk about why she needed to talk so much. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow says of Kurtz's widow: "She talked as thirsty men drink." Nadia Lockyer is parched. She gulps mouthfuls of what happened and what were you thinking and where do you go from here.
Kurtz's widow was blissfully unaware of the monster her beloved had become, his actions inexplicable, unrecognizable, seemingly impossible to reconcile with anyone who had known him. So it goes for many who knew Nadia before she headed north. That Nadia, the one with a ceiling so high that offices such as senator and governor weren't mentioned as what-ifs but whens, would flame out so absurdly dark and spectacular seemed inconceivable. Also, meth? Seriously? Meth?
She herself seems, at times, surprised, and it is not uncommon when talking about some of the unfortunate choices she has made to talk about what "Nadia" did, what "Nadia" was thinking. In fact, she talks about "Nadia" when talking about the person people assumed she was or expected she'd become. Yes, she talks about "Nadia" making horrible decisions, but also "Nadia" who has a genuine love and passion and desire for helping individuals.
Then again, she says it was that desire that was twisted and eventually used to try to destroy her and her family.
* * *
I had first become aware of her in 1999. I was a senior editor at the Weekly, and we had just run a cover story headlined "The Kid Is Innocent," about a 17-year-old boy named Arthur Paul Carmona who had been wrongly imprisoned for a robbery he didn't commit. After the story ran, we began to run somewhat regular updates on the case. Increasingly around the office, the name "Nadia" would pop up, not only because she had taken the lead in trying to get Carmona out, but because she was only 27 and the daughter of the legendary civil-rights lawyer Wally Davis, who had successfully argued the landmark 1968 California State Supreme Court case that Santa Ana's then-English-language achievement tests were inappropriate for Spanish-speaking students. The case ended wrongful placement of Latino children in classes for the mentally disabled because they scored poorly on tests written in a language they hadn't learned. Carmona's mother, Ronnie Sandoval, didn't know any of that when Nadia approached her at a Los Amigos meeting.
"She came up to me afterward and said she was going to try to help," Ronnie says. "I thought that was very nice, but she was so young—a girl. She had just graduated, but I always had confidence in her because she seemed to grasp all the complexity of the case immediately. I was so impressed. She was the one I'd always confide in, and she's a lot younger than I am. But, emotionally, she was older than her age, wise beyond her years."
The youngest of seven tight-packed siblings—nine years separate the bunch—Nadia grew up in a home of brilliant individuals who tended toward volatility. Her father's heavy drinking would eventually lead her mother, Irmgard, to abandon her husband temporarily for Germany, leaving a then-13-year-old Nadia to rush home from school every day to keep house and cook dinner for her father. Whether the need to nurture was natural or forced upon her can be debated, but the fact is that by the time she did her undergrad at UCLA and went through Loyola Law School, a pattern had been set. During those times of intense studies, she also always found time to lobby for immigration rights and ethnic studies programs while helping at-risk, low-income youth stay in school.
Ronnie likes to tell the story of going to visit Nadia in the hospital in 1999, after Nadia had been involved in a horrific accident that almost killed her. A big rig hit the car Nadia was driving on the Long Beach Freeway with such force that it broke 22 of her bones and caused bleeding on the brain. The accident would initiate chronic pain that Nadia would try to self-medicate with alcohol—usually wine. It was her struggles to deal with the lingering outcomes of the accident that would, one day, lead her to a hospital pain-management program in which she would meet the man who would introduce her to meth. That, of course, was unknowable to any of them when Ronnie walked into Nadia's room.
Ronnie recalls finding Nadia's bed covered in photos and documents pertaining to Arthur and his case. "Everyone in that hospital knew about Arthur," Ronnie says. "I remember her so frail and thin and in excruciating pain, but not even that could deter her from fighting for Arthur. That's when I just stood in awe of her."
The previous year, Nadia had worked on the legal team that preserved Loretta Sanchez's congressional victory over conservative hellion Robert Dornan; the same year she took on the Carmona case, Nadia would run for and be elected to a term on the Santa Ana Unified School District Board of Trustees. It seemed she was everywhere and always, according to this progressive paper, on the right side of things. Not to mention the side that tended to win—Carmona was exonerated in 2000. She freed the innocent, advocated for the downtrodden and had helped slay the boogieman Dornan, who once complimented the Weekly by calling us the "nexus of evil."
And she was beautiful. It got so that if a reporter was known to have spoken to her in person, he would be quizzed in the office as to what she was really like, what she said and how she said it.
It turned out the California Attorney General was asking questions, too. Bill Lockyer first came into contact with his future wife at a Democratic Party function. When he asked a mutual friend about her, the friend, Nadia says, told Lockyer, "No, no, no, no! We've all tried that one. Forget it."
But Lockyer had something the others didn't; he could speak Nadia Davis' particular language of love: policy. In those years, there was little that existed for Nadia outside of government regulation, legal procedure and various other forms of wonkiness. Their first dinners together were spent talking about such things and led to talk of other things that led, eventually, to Nadia married and pregnant and driving up north in a Prius, a wedding present from her new husband.
Since the two had done a good job of keeping their relationship secret, the 2003 marriage shocked many, including us at the Weekly, who may have belied some bitterness in the somewhat-indelicate manner we chose to describe the union.
"You called us 'Beauty and the Beast,'" Bill Lockyer says. "Uh-huh. Beauty. And the beast. I remember that one."
There were other things that caught people's eye, of course. One being that Lockyer was 30 years her senior—he was 59 to her 29 at the time of their wedding—and that he had a daughter older than Nadia. (For a long time, Nadia says, she had assumed Bill was no more than a dozen years older than her and was "shocked" to learn of their three-decade difference.) Many more speculated what kind of bargain had been made between the two and how far it would go. One paper called it a "match made in political heaven"; another said it was the first marriage in which the dowry promised a political office. Okay, so they weren't unique or the funniest things ever written, but the point was that a particular kind of monster appeared to be being built: a female, Latino candidate at a time when women and Latinos had begun to sway elections and would soon threaten to destroy the Republican Party.
She was also a female, Latino candidate with a progressive pedigree, impeccable credentials, and now power bases in both southern and northern California. And her strongest supporter and ally—and husband—was the state's savviest and most successful politician, a man who served 25 years in the state Legislature before going on to serve two terms as attorney general and state treasurer. It all seemed so perfect and planned and clean—which, of course, is the way people love to define other people's lives. It's never true, of course, life being one messy slog. And indeed, so it was for the new Mrs. Lockyer, who suddenly felt herself cut off and lonely.
"I remember what people were saying or thinking, but to this day, I totally believe we got married because we were in love," Nadia says. "But it was such a strange experience. One day, I'm in Southern California, where my whole life is—Orange County, UCLA—and then bam! I'm up north where I don't know anyone, and I'm feeling completely isolated."
She had told Bill she dearly wanted to have a second child, but she says he "would not even talk about it." That is, until 2009, when, she says, he suddenly announced he wanted one. The change of heart actually angered her—she thought it rather cavalier of a man to announce his decision to a 38-year-old woman. Still, they got pregnant. Unfortunately, Nadia would suffer a miscarriage four and a half months into the pregnancy.
Though others seemed to be convinced how her life would be and what direction it would follow, Nadia says she almost immediately lost sight of who she and her family were. Diego had been born five months into their marriage. Bill had always strove in his own life to be as normal as possible, so they attempted to be a regular, working family, albeit one containing two people seen as possible lead occupants of the governor's mansion. Though she was working full-time for the Alameda County Family Justice Center, Bill still wanted his wife and child with him, which usually meant jumping on a plane every weekend with a newborn, something that soon began to wear on her.
"Bill is very private; he likes to keep his life normal," she says. "We would sit in the normal line at Southwest. We were the Lockyers, but my personal life was as normal as it could be. Well, except I wasn't Nadia anymore. I was 'the young wife of . . .' I just had to keep running just to stand still. I was a mother with no help, and I began to get tired of changing into my gala dress in airport restrooms. Once, we were supposed to go to brunch with Al Gore, and we were late and had to change Diego's diapers, and I end up getting some stuff on my clothes. And as I'm on my knees, trying to deal with all this, I hear Bill behind me say, 'Nadia, I'd like you to meet Al Gore.' And all I can think is 'I just want a normal life.' I probably should have put my foot down."
Lockyer allows that he can be demanding when it comes to how he wants to live his life.
"My wife correctly accuses me of being a control freak," he says. "Politicians try to control variables; poets invent new ones."
Then again, Nadia seemed to embrace the lifestyle and pace Bill set when she announced in 2010 she would be running for a seat on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. It was an announcement political reporters such as Steven Tavares, who runs and reports for the East Bay Citizen, had been expecting, yet one he remembers welcoming with a kind of excitement he didn't associate with politics in the area.
"I was there when she made her announcement because I decided that I wanted personally to get in on the ground floor," Tavares says. "She was going to be a U.S. senator or governor of the state, and yet we really didn't know that much about her. She was, until then, the trophy wife of Bill Lockyer. But everyone knew she had everything for a successful career, that she was going to have every resource, have everything greased for her. And that was confirmed the night she announced.
"They rented out this building in Hayward—right there, that wasn't normal," Tavares continues. "[Former California Democratic Party chairman] Art Torres was there, all of Bill's cronies, old guys, were there on one side. On the other were all the young people attracted by Nadia. They looked like they had wandered into an Elks lodge. I remember there was this group of young women—they looked at [Nadia] like she was Madonna, a rock star. She had a magnetic feel to her, and everyone wanted to get close to her. The only thing that didn't seem to fit was that when she got up to speak, it got weird. She came across as really shy and uncomfortable. She seemed to struggle. At the time, I just chalked it up to nerves, but later, it seemed to make sense."
* * *
That Nadia would win the election was a foregone conclusion. Though her opponent was well-known state Senator—and former love interest of Bill Lockyer's—Liz Figueroa, Nadia had an enormous spending advantage, about 10-to-1.
"Bill Lockyer bought the seat," Tavares says. "She had $1.5 million; you could run 10 [supervisor] campaigns here for that kind of money."
Nadia won easily, but almost immediately, that weird feeling Tavares had about Nadia returned. Just six months into her first term, he tweeted that she looked skinny and unhealthy. By the summer of 2011, he had begun to ask around if she had an eating disorder.
"She was this tiny person," he says, "and she was disappearing."
What Tavares didn't know was that during the campaign, in the summer of 2010, she had deemed it necessary to check into a hospital chemical-dependency program. The pain from her bad car accident was still with her, as was the stress of campaigning, and she believed it wise to check the issue immediately. It was there that she met a construction worker and fellow addict named Stephen Chikhani. Even in rehab, Nadia had a hard time turning down pro bono stuff.
"He was in the program, and I kind of became a mentor to him," Nadia says. "You know, 'keep your head up' kind of stuff. I told his dad about changes [to the three-strikes law] that came with Proposition 36. His dad was so grateful and asked me to help him out. Ha!
"After he got out," she continues, "he told me, 'I'm falling in love with you. I told him, 'No, that can't be.' And that, I thought, was that. The campaign began, and when I won, he texted and put on my Facebook, 'You won!' I still kind of mentored him, in part, because at the core of my recovery, I had to feel I was doing some good in the world. I really believed I was a source of hope for this man."
But the relationship soon turned romantic, with Chikhani pledging to give Nadia the baby she wanted. It also had become toxic. Chikhani would threaten suicide, and, Nadia says, she had to twice talk him out of jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. It was Chikhani, she says, who introduced her to meth—something she admits to trying, naively believing it to be no different than smoking a joint. Nadia claims she eventually broke it off with Chikhani, but he refused to go away and began to stalk her.
And then, on Feb. 3, 2012, about a year into her stint as a supervisor, the news broke.
"She had begun to be a little more absent from meetings than normal, you know, missing a lot of meetings," Tavares says. "And then the story comes out: Nadia Lockyer got into a fight with her boyfriend last night . . . Boyfriend?"
That day, she and Bill argued. Bill, who had become aware of his wife's extramarital relationship, one she had said she had ended, asked why she was still in contact with Chikhani. Complicating and generally uglifying matters was the fact that Chikhani had made two sex tapes and given them to Lockyer, threatening to blackmail his wife if she didn't pay to buy the tapes.
"Bill was very angry," Nadia says. "He said, 'Why have you been talking to him? Why don't you just go ahead and commit suicide?'"
Nadia left home and checked into a hotel with Diego, she says, looking for "a peaceful place." Chikhani soon showed up—he says he was summoned by Nadia, but she says he arrived unannounced and unwanted. The police would soon be called to find Nadia with bumps on the back of her head and marks on her neck. She says Chikhani had attacked her in front of her son. Chikhani would say it was the other way around and pointed to a torn shirt as proof.
The story exploded around the Bay Area and filtered down to Southern California. Tavares wrote about the story on his website and posted some screen grabs of the sex tapes. To this day, he says, those screen grabs are the most popular thing on the site, accounting for about 10 percent of East Bay Citizen's total traffic. Tavares says he saw the tapes before they were taken off the Internet and describes what they show as "sad. It's not a sexy tape. She's deep into drugs; you can see it. She's just a zombie; her lights are not on. It's very creepy. You could argue that [Chikhani] just wanted to get something on her to control her. It's really awful."
Legal officials decided against prosecuting Chikhani, in part because Nadia let him into the room, in part because she saw him after the incident, in part because she was using drugs, and in part because Chikhani can be seen putting his hands around Nadia's neck in the sex tape. When you talk to her today about the decision to not prosecute, she is more likely to get angry, though therapists have urged her to give up her anger and move on. Then again, they have told her that Chikhani's abuse of her was so great that she will be dealing with a form of post-traumatic stress for the rest of her life. She found out about the decision while in rehab, and it left her only feeling hopeless.
"I had reached out to a man to help," she says now. "He used that good part of my heart, figured out a way he was going to profit from that. I had spent my professional life telling people to believe in the justice system; I [kept] telling that to Arthur. But when I found out they weren't going to prosecute [Chikhani], it was like there was nothing left to believe in for me; it went against everything my dad had taught me about the world. I felt like I didn't belong here."
It was around this time that Nadia—who by then had resigned as a county supervisor—was found by personnel at the rehab center tearing and tying together sheets with the intention of hanging herself from a balcony. It wasn't the last time she considered it. When she relapsed in her sister's home in August 2012 and was taken to OC Jail, feeling like "a bad woman, bad mom, bad elected official" and still having nightmares about Chikhani, she began planning another attempt until her sister Sabrina intervened and had officials place her on a 24-hour suicide watch.
Bill, caring for Diego, had announced his intention to divorce his wife. He is not one to show emotion or like to get stuck in it, but all of the turmoil had worn him down. When Nadia asked him to defend her in the press while she was in rehab, she says he answered, "You're a crazy bitch; why would I help you?"
He would eventually change his mind about the divorce; he saw how serious his wife was about her recovery, and "there were weeks when we were apart that I realized how much I loved her and that I should keep the family together," he says.
The couple moved into a condo in Long Beach, and Nadia completed nearly a year in rehab. It allowed her to finally stop and consider what had happened to her. She realized that everything in her life had been moving too fast, including the loss of it. She had lost the baby, and then, in 2008, received the news that Arthur Carmona had been killed when he was hit by a car while trying to break up a fight. She was on the phone in her kitchen, and the weight of it knocked her to the ground, which is where Diego found her.
"He asked me why I was crying. I didn't know how to explain it to a child, so I said, 'There was this little boy I helped, and he's gone to heaven, and he's not going to be there to hug anymore.' And, sitting in front of me on the kitchen floor, he said, 'Mommy, don't cry; I'm going to bring that little boy back to life for you.'"
Her own mentally ill brother, whom she had taken in and cared for, attempted suicide himself. Nadia found him and remembers feeling his cheek to find it as cool as Arthur's when she had touched it during the viewing.
"It had been just one thing after another for so long, and I just kept going," she says. "That's one of the reasons I started using [meth], so I could work harder, so I could stay up, so I could be Wonder Woman."
* * *
The Lockyers enjoyed a wonderful Christmas 2013, hosted by Nadia. She welcomed guests, made a huge Christmas dinner, and, most of all, reveled in the time with her son. Just the year before, her Christmas time with Diego had been limited to a brief visit at the treatment center. Now they were all there—mother, father and son—like a normal family.
"We were all together," Bill says. "It was very different. And wonderful."
He has chosen to move on from any past hurt. He sees a therapist once a month and accepts "whatever my inadequacies as a husband did to contribute to my wife's misdeeds."
Nadia says she accepts her role in all of this. She's grateful that Bill is so patient, she says, since "[I've been] pretty crazy. I kinda tell myself I owe him several decades of a lot of patience." She admits to holding onto some resentments for him not defending her in a manner she deemed appropriate, but, she says, "I have regrets; he has regrets. There's no way we could recover if we just got stuck in our resentment."
Her greatest anger seems reserved for those officials who decided to not prosecute Chikhani for what he did to not only her, but also Diego that night. She says her son has shown a remarkable resiliency considering all he has been forced to endure. The only vestige of any trauma is that he gets nervous when he can't hear his mother from another room.
"He was in the room next door [in the motel], and I couldn't respond; that's why I started screaming, so he could hear," she says. "Ever since that time, whenever I'm in another room, he'll say, 'Mommy?' and I answer right away, 'Yeah.' And he'll say, 'Just checking.'"
Bill will soon end his second term as treasurer and take a position with an Orange County law firm. Nadia says she's eager to get back to work, ideally in something that would help those struggling with addiction who have also been victims of violence.
Among the significant changes she has made are matching feather tattoos atop one foot and behind her left ear. The ink was important for her, she says, to honor her Native American heritage, but it also seems a not-all-that-subtle announcement that she is done with politics, at least running for office. Tattoos on your head don't win statewide elections.
She attends daily AA meetings and knows her sobriety is a tenuous thing to manage. As for her marriage, she says she wants to stay married to Bill, and anyone who has ever been married knows that, no matter the circumstance, that's also a tenuous thing to manage.
"I would put everything on Nadia overcoming and getting through all of this," Ronnie Sandoval says. "She's such a determined person, such an awesome girl. I would not have kept going [when fighting to get Arthur out of prison] if it wasn't for her. There were so many times I wanted to quit, and she just wouldn't let me. She'd say, 'We're going to get through this,' and she made me believe it."
Nadia seems to believe it, more and more. She says that over the past year, she has made a lot of the connections as to why she's done the things she's done and what she can do in the future. She talks about that, about being herself—"I've always been the daughter of, the wife of . . ."—adds a shout-out for her son's developing cursive talent and finishes with "It's weird to be a house mom."
She then looks at the time and abruptly announces, "I gotta go," standing and sweeping up her purse in one smooth motion. I extend my hand, and she shakes it.
"Hmmmm," she says. "That was a lot, wasn't it?"
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