Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco accused a Riverside city council member of condoning vandalism of a county courthouse during an abortion-rights rally.
The council member, Clarissa Cervantes, called the accusation false and said the sheriff should publicly apologize. Bianco declined to do so.
It was the latest online controversy for Bianco, who deleted his Twitter account last year, citing the amount of "bashing" his posts got. He has maintained a Facebook profile.
Bianco made the statement about Cervantes on his Facebook page Saturday, referring to vandalism that a court official said involved handprints left in paint.
"When you damage, deface, or destroy property you are no longer a protester, you are nothing more than a common criminal," Bianco wrote. "Shame on the Riverside city councilwoman for supporting the defacing of our courthouse. You are lucky we couldn’t arrest you."
Bianco then apologized to two other council members, suggesting a previous post might have implied they were involved. The original post also criticized "the Riverside city councilwoman," but included no name.
Cervantes released a statement Sunday.
"While visiting downtown Riverside last night, I witnessed the arrest of protesters who vandalized our historic courthouse," she wrote. "I recognized one of the Riverside Police Department officers who were on the scene, so I spoke to him briefly to ask what was occurring and thank him for his work. Neither myself nor any of my City Council colleagues were involved with the protest or the vandalism."
She added that the sheriff provided no evidence for his claims.
"I believe that accusing an elected leader of committing a crime — without offering any evidence — crosses a very clear line," Cervantes wrote. "Since Sheriff Bianco’s post went public, I’ve received slandering comments and threatening messages through social media."
Asked to respond by The Desert Sun, Bianco called Cervantes a "political activist" but provided no evidence for the assertion she had supported vandalism.
The sheriff's department issued a news release Sunday stating deputies were dispatched on reports of vandalism to the Riverside Historic Courthouse, which is more than 100 years old.
The deputies "detained numerous suspects near the building who were believed to have defaced the property," according to the release, and identified the demonstrators as in "support of abortion rights."
Deputies arrested eight people and accused them of causing $10,000 in damage.
Photos shared on social media show hand prints in paint on the exterior walls of the building. The department did not provide details about the extent of the claimed damages to the building.
"The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department has a responsibility to ensure the Constitutional Rights of our community members are protected and we take that commitment very seriously," the sheriff's Media Information Bureau wrote. "However, the transition from peaceful demonstration to protest and then to criminal behavior of any kind, will always be met with zero tolerance. We will arrest and charge offenders to the fullest extent of the law."
Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights Inland Empire, an abortion rights advocacy group, had a planned demonstration on July 30 at White Park, which is blocks away from the courthouse. The organization did not immediately respond to confirm its involvement in the event.
David Gutknecht, chief deputy of administration for the county's Superior Court, said the court was open as scheduled on Monday and that the damage was limited to the outside walls.
"The damage is from painted handprints, primarily on exterior walls and columns at the front of the building," Gutknecht said in an email. "While the county was able to remove some of the paint, re-painting will be necessary."
Christopher Damien covers public safety and the criminal justice system. He can be reached at email@example.com or follow him at @chris_a_damien.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Sheriff Chad Bianco, Riverside council member trade posts on vandalism