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October 11, 2013

Merced City Council candidate questioned about alleged abuse in 2008

Merced City Council candidate Kevin Blake was questioned by Merced police in 2008 about whether he physically assaulted his then-girlfriend, according to a report obtained by the Merced Sun-Star. Blake, who serves as a sergeant in the Merced County Sheriff’s Department, was never charged in the case, following a review by the office of Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II. Blake and the woman, Leslie Sziraki, steadfastly deny any violence ever took place.

Merced City Council candidate Kevin Blake was questioned by Merced police in 2008 about whether he physically assaulted his then-girlfriend, according to a report obtained by the Merced Sun-Star.

Blake, who serves as a sergeant in the Merced County Sheriff’s Department, was never charged in the case, following a review by the office of Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II.

Blake and the woman, Leslie Sziraki, steadfastly deny any violence ever took place.

The 33-year-old candidate recently addressed the report in a Merced Sun-Star interview, saying that although Sziraki and he had arguments at the time and were in the midst of a breakup, he never abused her.

“It wasn’t a perfect relationship; neither one of us were perfect,” Blake said. “However, there was never any domestic violence.”

“We knew, going into this campaign, that these types of things could be brought up,” Blake said. “We came in prepared for that possibility.”

Officers called to hospital

The investigation by Merced police came about after Sgt. Chris Goodwin and officer Miguel Gallegos responded to Mercy Medical Center in Merced after midnight on Aug.19, 2008, after being called about a possible incident of domestic violence.

According to the report, police were directed by hospital staff to Sziraki’s room in the hospital.

Gallegos explained to Sziraki why he was at the hospital, saying someone had called saying she’d been “physically assaulted by a boyfriend or spouse,” according to the report.

Sziraki told police she hadn’t mentioned to anyone at the hospital she’d been assaulted.

The report states Sziraki told police she was lying on her bed with Blake about 10:25p.m. She said she got up to get a baby bottle for her child and tripped on a laundry basket, bassinet or something else on the side of the bed.

After falling, Sziraki said she called a friend who is a nurse at the hospital to try to get into the hospital faster, the report states. She said she had injured the wrist on another occasion and was afraid she had broken it on this occasion.

It’s here where the stories differ.

Merced police interviewed one of the nurses who reported the incident to police. She is Blake’s ex-wife, Lindsay Williams, who was going by the last name Yanez at the time.

According to the report, Williams told officers that Sziraki had called around 10:25p.m. prior to her arrival at the hospital. During the call, Sziraki had said she and Blake had gotten into a physical altercation.

During the altercation, Sziraki said she was “hitting on” Blake while he was on a bed. Williams said Sziraki told her Blake pushed her off of him and onto the ground, and had “hit her on her face.”

Nurses at Mercy Medical Center are mandatory reporters of domestic violence. In the report, Williams told police that Sziraki asked her not to inform law enforcement.

Williams told police she explained to Sziraki that she had to call law enforcement because it was part of hospital protocol. Williams said to officers that Sziraki’s reply was that she would “just deny anything had happened” if police were called.

Police asked Sziraki where Blake had been that day, and she said he’d been drinking heavily and had “passed out.”

Police also asked Sziraki if the injury to her wrist had been significant enough that she’d screamed out in pain, and she said it was. Officers then asked Sziraki whether Blake woke up when she screamed, and she said he did not.

Sziraki told police she took her infant child, placed him in the vehicle and drove to the hospital – and Blake was not aware she left.

Police also spoke with a friend of Sziraki’s named Jessica Beutel, who’d arrived at the hospital. Beutel told police that Sziraki had called her around 10:25p.m. “crying hysterically.”

Beutel claimed Sziraki had said the couple had gotten into an argument because Blake was “talking to a girl.” Beutel told police Sziraki said she had been pushed by Blake during the argument.

Police also spoke with Blaire Roseman, the woman who picked up Williams’ phone when Sziraki had allegedly called. Roseman told police Sziraki was crying hysterically. According to Roseman’s statement to police, Sziraki said she “swung at” Blake, and he grabbed her, pushing her to the ground.

“(Sziraki) told Roseman that Blake hit her on the left side of her face and also on the right upper lip. Roseman stated (Sziraki) had redness on her left cheek and it was also puffy. Roseman said (Sziraki) also had what appeared to be broken skin on her upper lip,” the report states.

The report also states “(Sziraki) told Roseman that Blake slammed her arm up against the wall and that is how she injured her wrist.”

Roseman also told police Sziraki had asked her not to inform law enforcement about the alleged incident.

After speaking with the three witnesses, police asked Sziraki about their statements. Sziraki told police Williams, Beutel and Roseman were all lying. She stuck to her story that she injured herself by falling down.

Police also said in the report that Williams had received text messages from Blake that night, asking about why law enforcement had been notified about the incident.

One of the text messages, sent at 1:23a.m., read “Dude, who do u think u r trying to ruin somebody’s life or what?” Another message, sent at 1:36a.m., read: “There is no (expletive) legal obligation unless there is an allegation and according to (Sziraki) u r the one pushing the issue, this is not a (expletive) joke.”

Williams also received a text from Sziraki at 10:33p.m., according to police, which read “Don’t call the copz plz he has 2 kids he needs to support bc he will no longer see mine.”

Still, Williams told police Blake had never “raised a finger at her” and that “she did not believe he would be capable of physically assaulting someone,” according to the report.

Police arrive at residence

When police arrived at Blake’s home about 3a.m., he acknowledged he and Sziraki had an argument earlier in the evening, but denied physically assaulting her. Blake said he’d taken medication to help him sleep, which had “pretty much knocked him out,” according to the report.

Police asked Blake why Williams, Beutel and Roseman would all say they had a conversation with Sziraki about him allegedly assaulting her. Blake said he didn’t know the women’s motivations.

Blake explained to police, according to the report, that he didn’t go to the hospital to check up on Sziraki because he was groggy from the sleeping pills and did not want to drive.

Police noted in their report that other than “bruising” to Sziraki’s right wrist, there appeared to be no visible injuries, and no redness or swelling on her face or lip.

According to the police report, Sziraki’s medical records from her hospital visit state “the patient had initially stated that she was assaulted, but then later denied being assaulted, attributing her injuries to a fall.”

The medical report stated she had a sprained wrist, swelling to her upper lip and a small hematoma on her right cheek. X-rays revealed her wrist was not fractured, according to the police report.

Police later followed up with Williams, asking whether she would make up the allegations as a form of revenge against her ex-husband, and she replied “no,” according to the report. In follow up interviews with police, Roseman and Beutel also denied making up the allegations.

Blake, witnesses respond to report

Responding to questions regarding to the police report, Blake told the Sun-Star that he had arguments with Sziraki at the time, and they were in the midst of breaking up, but the arguments never got physical.

Blake said the couple might have argued on the day of the alleged incident, although he doesn’t remember much about that night.

“It’s been so long ago, I remember pieces, but nothing well enough that I could sit here and give you specifics about,” Blake said. “It’s just been so long ago, and it was one night.”

The night’s events were “complicated and convoluted,” Blake said, adding he was never arrested or charged with a crime.

“The DA’s office never filed charges, I was never detained or arrested or anything of that nature,” he said. “In fact, since then I’ve excelled at my job; I’ve been promoted since then. I’ve done well.”

Blake said the investigation likely continued as long as it did because of his role in law enforcement.

“I’m glad it was as thoroughly investigated as it was, because it eliminated any room for speculation,” he said.

Blake said he remains friends with Sziraki, saying they work together as parents. “We work very closely at raising our son together,” Blake said. “There is no bad blood between us.”

Leslie Sziraki also spoke with the Sun-Star, maintaining Blake was never physically abusive toward her, characterizing him as a dependable father. Blake has three children. “He’s a great dad. Our relationship has grown a lot more since we’ve had our son,” Sziraki said.

Sziraki maintains she never made any comments that would lead the hospital’s nurses to call police, and asserts she would have no reason to cover for Blake if he was abusive.

When asked about the day of the alleged incident, Sziraki said she doesn’t remember having an argument with Blake that day.

Sziraki said her family has no ill will against Blake and believes he was not abusive. Her father, Sgt. Steve Sziraki, who works at the Merced County Courthouse for the Merced County Sheriff’s Department, declined comment when asked about the report.

Lindsay Williams, who was also contacted by the Sun-Star, declined questions about the Merced police report or the night of the alleged incident.

Williams said she does, however, support Blake’s run for public office. She even has a “Blake for City Council” sign in her front yard.

“My ex-husband has not been abusive to me in any way, shape or form,” she said, “and that’s not who I know him to be.”

Beutel also declined to answer questions about Blake or her statements to police.

Efforts were also made to contact Roseman, although members of her family said she did not wish to comment.

No charges filed by district attorney

The report from the Merced Police Department’s investigation into the alleged August 2008 incident was forwarded to the Merced County District Attorney’s Office, although no charges came about.

District Attorney Larry Morse II said the standard for taking any case to trial is the same: “Do we have enough evidence to prove a case to 12 jurors beyond a reasonable doubt?” he said. “In this case, we did not.”

Often, in domestic violence cases, victims do not cooperate with authorities, Morse said. However, the victims usually claim they were beaten and later retract their statement. Sziraki never acknowledged any violence, Morse said.

“We didn’t have anything beyond a hearsay statement that we could pursue,” Morse said. “It wasn’t even really a close call.”

Blake is the son of Merced City Councilman Bill Blake, who retired from his position as Merced County undersheriff in 2009. Morse asserts that Blake saw no special treatment as a member of law enforcement.

Morse said three or four attorneys from his office looked at the case before they decided not to prosecute Blake. Morse said that’s more scrutiny than most cases get.

“It’s more than we would ordinarily do,” Morse said. “It’s because it was a member of the law enforcement community.”

In the meantime, Blake said he hasn’t consumed alcohol in more than three years. He also said he’s a different person than he was five years ago.

“I do think generally I’m a more responsible person, but I don’t think it has anything to do with that (incident) per se,” Blake said.

“I can’t sit here and say that was some huge eye-opening experience that changed me, because that’s just not the case,” he said.

Blake said he owns up to his mistakes, and maintains that he’s never been abusive to anyone he’s had a romantic relationship with.

“I don’t hide behind anything. I’m honest and forthcoming,” Blake said, adding violence is not in his nature.

“I think it’s something that got emotional, and the incident got blown out of proportion,” he said.

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