MODESTO — Modesto City Schools board member Steven Grenbeaux now faces a charge of felony assault with a deadly weapon stemming from a confrontation with a Caltrans worker in downtown Modesto last year.
Grenbeaux appeared briefly in court Tuesday afternoon and pleaded not guilty to the new charge. His preliminary hearing remains scheduled to start June 18.
Prosecutors initially charged Grenbeaux with felony assault likely to cause great bodily injury when the criminal complaint was filed March 4 in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Deputy District Attorney John R. Mayne said the new charge is similar to the old one, resulting in the same maximum sentence of four years in prison if convicted.
"This charge is consistent with the factual allegations," Mayne said about the change.
Robert Forkner, Grenbeaux's defense attorney, disagrees. He said after Tuesday's hearing that his client now faces a serious and violent felony that could be considered a strike under the state's "three strikes law."
Forkner called it "vindictive prosecution" on behalf of the district attorney's office.
"It takes the district attorney over a year to figure out what charges to file against my client," Forkner said in the courthouse hallway. "Mr. Grenbeaux will be found innocent and exonerated of all charges."
The incident occurred about 3:20 p.m. April 18, 2012, on L Street between Eighth and Ninth streets. The California Highway Patrol investigated and submitted the case in June to the district attorney's office.
The complaint alleges that Grenbeaux assaulted California Department of Transportation worker Dan Robles. He has said his crew had just laid asphalt near the railroad crossing on L Street when Grenbeaux drove his car inside the construction area.
The two men argued and the confrontation escalated, Robles has said, and Grenbeaux tried to move him by bumping him with the car. Robles said he was not injured.
Grenbeaux has denied hitting Robles with his car. He has said the Caltrans crew was away from the construction barrier that he drove around.
The school board member admits that he made a mistake in driving around the barrier, but said all he expected was a traffic ticket.
Grenbeaux remains free on his recognizance.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2394.