On Friday, Sasha Perigo published online a lengthy and detailed rape allegation against Jon Jacobo, a prominent Mission politico and community activist.
And, while online accusations of sexual misconduct are increasingly common, the level of detail recounted within Perigo’s seven-page narrative is not common: It included screenshots of text messages, contemporaneous written discussions regarding the alleged April assault, medical records, a rape kit, and a police report.
District Attorney spokeswoman Rachel Marshall confirmed that the DA’s office is investigating this case in cooperation with the police. Perigo said that both a representative of the San Francisco Police Department and DA Chesa Boudin himself have contacted her since Friday to discuss her options.
Perigo, a housing activist who is well known in local political circles, has stated she does not wish to press charges against the man she once considered a close friend. But, with these allegations — and their underlying evidence — now in the public sphere, that may be out of her hands.
“The decision on whether to file charges is exclusively with the prosecutor — exclusively,” explained retired Superior Court Judge LaDoris Cordell. “Victims don’t file charges. And victims cannot stop prosecutors from filing charges.”
“We prosecute violent crimes even without witness cooperation when we can prove the case,” said Marshall.
Multiple legal experts contacted by Mission Local opined that the level of detail included within Perigo’s public accusation already met or exceeded the standard of “probable cause” required for police to make an arrest. Probable cause “is not a very high burden,” said Laurie Levenson, a criminal law professor at Loyola Law School and former federal prosecutor. “It doesn’t even mean more likely than not. It’s just a strong suspicion.”
A San Francisco Police Department spokesperson stated that “the Special Victims Unit is aware of the social media posting and is looking into the matter.”
Compared to the police, prosecutors, however, face a far higher burden: whether they can prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s a difficult standard to meet without the active participation of the accuser — in this case, Perigo. But, legal experts continued, the evidence she has already publicly presented mitigates her reticence to push for criminal charges.
Perigo’s public statements “are of great assistance to the prosecution,” Levenson said, “and probably make it easier to prosecute, even if the victim does not wish to move forward.”
Under California evidence law, Levenson noted, “You are able to use prior statements. They don’t have to have been made in proper proceedings or under oath. She has done a lot of the prosecution’s work.”
Since Perigo filed a police report, legally, a police officer’s testimony can even be used on her behalf, said S.F. State criminal justice lecturer and retired SFPD veteran Jim Dudley.
While prosecuting crimes over the objections of the alleged victims is not par for the course, it’s hardly unheard of — especially in the realm of domestic violence. These crimes were once categorized as a personal or family matter, but they are now widely handled as a crime against the public.
Prosecutions in such cases are not only meant to bring accountability to an abuser for his or her crimes against an individual victim, but to protect society at large.
Perigo told Mission Local that she would be “very upset if [the DA] were to go forward without my cooperation.” If, however, additional accusers materialized, she would “absolutely cooperate.” In her original Twitter post, Perigo called for accusers to contact her if they had experienced anything similar with Jacobo.
Perigo offered multiple reasons for not wanting to take further legal action: She believes the community is now well informed of Jacobo’s alleged actions and she doesn’t believe incarceration can effectively rehabilitate offenders. At this point, she said, the community and those who love and care about Jacobo are responsible for holding him accountable.
Jacobo, who has not yet returned calls from Mission Local, has stated that his memory of the event differs from Perigo’s, and he believed their encounter to be consensual.
While relations between the SFPD and DA are fraught — and the police could put Boudin on the spot with a quick arrest of Jacobo, a noted police critic — legal experts doubted this would come to pass.
Rather, they foresaw a more thorough investigation that could, potentially, uncover more evidence from more sources — and, if so, potentially give Perigo time to change her mind.
Retired judge Cordell laid out several possibilities, including Boudin potentially opting to convene a grand jury. Ultimately, she said, the decision to move forward or not lies with the county prosecutor.
Complicating matters, however, Jacobo is a well-known figure in San Francisco political circles. He was an active volunteer in Boudin’s successful 2019 run for office. Marshall did not answer questions about whether Boudin would recuse his office from a potential prosecution, and instead request involvement from the state attorney general.
‘We are living in a social media world now’
Prior to Perigo’s Friday accusations, Jon Jacobo was a man on the ascent. The vice president of the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, Jacobo had played a prominent public role in the Latino Task Force’s successful and lauded campaign to aid, feed, test and vaccinate Mission denizens during the pandemic. He was a member of the Department of Building Inspection’s Building Inspection Committee — a role he has since resigned from — and a touted potential aspirant to be the next District 9 supervisor.
Separate and apart from the validity of Perigo’s allegations, political observers were shocked at the rapidity in which Jacobo’s prospects have been extinguished.
So were legal observers.
“We are living in a social media world now, where if you want to put your story out there, you don’t have to go through the court system to do it anymore,” said Cordell.
This was seen as both an indictment of a legal system that has further traumatized alleged victims while coddling abusers, and an alarming new normal in which lives can be made or unmade with the click of a button, with little in the way of checks and balances.
Why make your case on social media in the court of public opinion rather than in a real court? Because “the criminal justice system does not function,” sums up Hadar Aviram, a law professor at UC Hastings.
While the Sixth Amendment provides the accused the right to an impartial trial, Aviram continued, trial by social media eliminates that. It also, however, eliminates alleged victims suffering the bruising experience of being defamed during cross-examination and having their morals and credibility publicly questioned.
Even after the conventional legal process, many alleged offenders are never convicted due to a lack of sufficient evidence. And, as Perigo has overtly stated, many victims do not feel a sense of healing after the incarceration of their alleged abusers.
“Our system even in the best of times is daunting. It can take a year or two to go through the court process. You have a victim waiting, waiting, waiting,” said Cathy Garcia, a former police detective and DA investigator in San Diego. “Some people need their day in court,” while others prefer to have the public decide the offender’s fate.
Perigo says her social media post was meant to give her some closure, both by shifting public opinion of Jacobo and also simply getting the experience off of her chest.
She plans to seek redress from the California Victims Compensation Board, which can help provide healthcare and recoup lost wages for victims of various crimes. This, she says, would not have been possible without filing a police report.
Legal observers are uneasy with this new normal, which is seen as a double-edged sword.
“One of the things the #MeToo movement is offering is that an incredible amount of accountability or revenge — which it is, depends on your perspective — occurs outside of the criminal justice system, in the public square,” said Aviram. “We are learning to reckon that there are now other ways to put people on the spot and expose what people have done outside the criminal process.”
Even if there are certain benefits to following a legal process after a crime is committed, in the case of sexual assault, pursuing that recourse without a victim’s consent may cause even further harm to a victim. While Perigo has received much public support, she said that the public scrutiny over just the last few days has been in many ways retraumatizing.
“Rape, in addition to other things, is fundamentally a denial of someone’s autonomy over their body,” says David Ball, a law professor at Santa Clara University. “If this woman is saying, ‘I did not consent to the sexual activity that took place,’ moving ahead with prosecution without her consent seems, in some ways, to replicate that damage.”