Griselda Govea drove down a residential street in Santa Ana one morning a few months ago when something came into view that sent a chill down her spine. A purple “Phil Bacerra for City Council” sign firmly planted on a resident’s lawn triggered a flood of memories; none of them good. “Did I just see that this man is running?” Govea asked a friend. “The same guy that used to throw me around, that spit in my face and literally kicked dirt in my eyes?”
Having just moved back to Santa Ana, Govea, a 39-year-old hairdresser, now faced a dilemma in her own hometown. She wrestled with coming forward about her off-and-on again relationship with Bacerra that ended years ago, one she alleges turned verbally, mentally and physically abusive. “I started thinking more and watching everything that’s happening in the news,” Govea tells the Weekly. “I prayed a lot about it asking God how I should approach this.”
Long before Bacerra became a candidate for city council in Ward 4, the two first met online in 2007. They went out on a date at Proof Bar in downtown Santa Ana. The budding relationship that followed carried on until Govea began first taking notice of comments Bacerra made towards her that she describes as derisive with regards to English being her second language. But nothing prepared her for an alleged physical assault that occurred about a year into the relationship. Govea claims she had gone to bed one night after Bacerra had too much to drink. “What happened next was me being woken up by my bra strap,” she says. “He pulled me up and threw me against the wall. When I tried to get up, he grabbed me again and threw me down on the floor.”
Having never witnessed domestic violence in her family home, the first alleged incident left Govea shocked and confused. “I didn’t know what to do,” she admits. “All I knew is that I thought I loved this guy.” On another occasion, Govea and Bacerra walked back to their car after watching a USC football game, the university that he proudly graduated from. She claims he had been drinking and needed help keeping himself upright and walking. But then both took a tumble to the ground. “He got up and kicked dirt in my face,” she says, her voice tinged with emotion. “I was surrounded by all these people and this just happened.”
As Govea recounts, the last straw in the tumultuous relationship came after going home from a Pride event in 2010. She looked out over the balcony of Bacerra’s apartment, witnessed a truck slam into a palm tree off of Broadway in Santa Ana and rushed downstairs to help out. Police arrived on scene and she offered translating services for the men hurt in the crash until authorities told her to go back inside. Bacerra allegedly accosted her for doing so, telling her to head back outside. And when she didn’t listen to him, things turned ugly.
“I’m going to the restroom and he grabs me from the arm and said, ‘You’re a worthless cunt’ and spat in my face,” she recalls. Recounting the humiliating memory brought trickles of tears down her face, ones dotted with a napkin while her voice continued quivering. “He started laughing and I just went into the restroom. I left disappointed in myself.” Govea kept reflecting on the relationship after the incident and eventually, the two parted ways for good when it ended in 2011.
After speaking with the Weekly, Govea made the same allegations of abuse in a social media post on Wednesday.
Bacerra declared Govea’s allegations of domestic violence against him to be false in a statement he released yesterday afternoon. “While our relationship was unhealthy, I was never physically abusive,” says Bacerra. “I have never in my life laid my hand on a woman in violence. I was far from the perfect boyfriend and I regret and apologize for the harsh words said during emotionally-charged arguments.”
Joevanie Lopez lived with his now-wife at the old, Victorian, double-level apartment on Broadway across the way from Bacerra’s old unit where a USC flag proudly hung. He recalls hearing those heated shouting matches between Govea and Bacerra through the walls in the middle of the night. “It was almost like I knew that Griselda was there because there would be an argument,” Lopez says. “Those instances became more frequent as time went on.” The chaotic commotion never compelled Lopez to call the police. “I had no idea until she recently shared with me,” he says of the domestic abuse allegations. “It did make sense to both my wife and me. We did feel that there needed to be intervention on Griselda’s side.”
Towards the end of their off-and-on again relationship, Govea charged Bacerra with abusing her in email exchanges shared with the Weekly. “You not only insulted me, lied to me, laid your hands on me, but you also spat on me,” Govea wrote Bacerra in an Apr. 25, 2010 email. She made similar claims of abuse a few months later. “You should’ve stopped being an option to me the first time you mistreated me and especially the first time you laid a hand on me,” Govea wrote Bacerra on Nov. 10, 2010. “You where [sic] abusive to me and took me for granted.” In Bacerra’s public statement, he noted a willingness to share his own personal emails from that time to show that allegations made against him mischaracterize his past relationship, but declined to provide them to the Weekly at this time.
Sonia Ramirez, a longtime friend, recently moved back to OC and looked to catch up with Govea during a hairstylist appointment about a year ago when she heard many of the same claims. An hour into their conversation, Ramirez asked about Govea’s past relationship with Bacerra. “She starts telling me all the different ways he was abusive towards her,” Ramirez says. “I was really shocked.” Govea told her she had been thrown against the wall and spat on by Bacerra. At a more recent followup appointment, the conversation turned to Bacerra’s bid for city council, which was in full-swing by then. Govea didn’t know what to do with regards to the experiences she had previously confided to her friend. “I recommended a couple women in the community that are activists,” says Ramirez.
Tish Leon, one such activist, spoke to Govea about her story and alerted Democratic Party of Orange County higher ups. Govea wrestled with coming forward, but ultimately decided against it at the time. Central committee members initially didn’t make an endorsement in the Ward 4 council race before giving the party’s nod to Bacerra a week later. But after going forward with her story on social media this week, Bacerra endorsements are getting a second look from the DPOC and are being revoked elsewhere.
“The endorsement vote for the city council race in Santa Ana, district 4, at the end of August was unrelated to this new allegation,” Fran Sdao, chairwoman of the DPOC, writes the Weekly. “The Democratic Party of Orange County intends to review the information that has recently come forward. We do not have any further information available at this time.” Bacerra also gained the endorsement of the Orange County Young Democrats (OCYD) back in September. But the OCYD released a statement yesterday morning after the allegations publicly surfaced.
“In light of recent revelations, the Orange County Young Democrats Executive Board has voted to revoke our endorsement of Phil Bacerra for Santa Ana City Council, Ward 4,” it reads. Santa Ana city councilman Jose Solorio also publicly indicated on social media that he withheld making an endorsement in the race, but after Govea’s allegations, he’ll be backing Bacerra’s Democratic opponent Roman Reyna. It remains to be seen what the powerful Santa Ana Police Officers Association does with its endorsement of Bacerra going forward.
After seeing political signs promoting Bacerra’s council bid, Govea began therapy sessions for the first time since the relationship ended. She recently celebrated her third wedding anniversary last weekend. With a supportive husband, Govea also relies on her faith in God, something that helped with the decision to come forward publicly with her story, one that ultimately couldn’t bear to be buried deep inside any more.
“As residents of Santa Ana we need to start holding ourselves accountable for who we’re putting in power,” Govea says. “I’ll be damned if I don’t say anything. I’ll be damned if I just sit back and watch it all unfold.”