State Sen. Otoniel “Tony” Navarrete is facing seven felony counts involving allegations of sexual conduct with two teenagers, which would add up to a minimum of 49 years in prison if he were convicted.
Maricopa County Superior Court Commissioner Steve McCarthy set a $50,000 bond and placed numerous restrictions on Navarrete, D-Phoenix, should he be released from jail. The lawmaker made his initial court appearance Friday afternoon.
Before the afternoon was over, Navarrete’s 48 Democratic colleagues in both the House and Senate called on him to resign, and other elected officials joined the chorus asking him to step down.
Navarrete was arrested Thursday night after Phoenix police received a complaint Wednesday about allegations of incidents involving sexual conduct starting in 2019. Police interviewed the alleged victims and then had one of them call Navarette, according to a probable cause statement.
In the recorded call, monitored by police, Navarrete, 35, acknowledged touching the victim’s penis and performing oral sex on the youth multiple times over several years, according to documents released by Maricopa County Superior Court.
Navarette told the youth he regretted his actions, knew they were wrong and repeatedly told the youth that the young man was not at fault for any of the interactions.
“Of course, I regret any bad actions that I did, absolutely wishing everything could be different. I’m sorry, mijo,” Navarrete was quoted as saying in the phone call. It appears he was not aware that police were listening in.
In the phone call, the victim, now age 16, confronted Navarrete, asking why he touched his penis. Navarrete told him he wasn’t well, records show. He repeatedly expressed regret for his actions, which reportedly occurred at Navarrete’s home and have caused anger and anxiety issues for the youth.
“Otoniel told him he is sorry he has to go through all this pain, not deserving it,” according to the narrative of the phone call.
The documents note another alleged incident where Navarette reached under the shorts and touched the upper thigh of another teenager, who swatted his hand away.
Officers arrested Navarrete at his home without incident. He was in custody and attended remotely at his initial appearance, with attorney Roland Rillos representing him in the courtroom.
“We have no public comment at this time but want to emphasize the importance of the presumption of innocence in this case,” Rillos said after the hearing.
Police are recommending seven felony charges against Navarette involving four offenses:
Three counts of sexual conduct with a minor and one count of molestation of a child, punishable as Class 2 felonies because the alleged victim was under age 15.
Two counts of sexual conduct with a minor, punishable as Class 6 felonies because the alleged victim was age 15 or older.
One count of attempted sexual conduct with a minor, punishable as a Class 3 felony.
Rillos on Friday argued for a lighter bond of $15,000, noting that Navarrete cooperated with police and had no prior arrest record.
But prosecutors pointed to the nature of the alleged crimes, plus the potentially lengthy prison sentence if convicted, and pressed for $50,000, plus conditions that he stay away from children, have no contact with the victims and surrender his passport, among other things.
McCarthy granted those conditions.
Democrats call for resignation
Even as the initial appearance was happening in court, calls for Navarrete’s resignation started to come in from fellow Democrats.
Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman was among the first, acknowledging that he is innocent until proven otherwise, but said resignation is in order.
“We must hold our elected leaders to the highest standards,” she said in a Twitter post.
The state Legislature’s LGBTQ Caucus, of which Navarette is a member, echoed the resignation call and expressed remorse for the victims of abuse.
“My heart is broken. I am furious,” said Rep. César Chávez, D-Phoenix, the caucus chairman. “If these charges are sustained and proven, it is a betrayal of trust that cannot be overlooked or ignored. Children deserve better. I implore the courts to make sure that every perpetrator of sexual crimes be removed from society and punished to the full extent of the law.”
All 48 Democrats in the Legislature called for Navarrete to resign his seat, which covers a broad swath of west-central Phoenix and parts of Glendale.
“The circumstances and serious nature of the felony charges faced by Senator Navarrete provide an untenable distraction from his role as an elected official and public servant for District 30,” said the statement, issued by Democrats in both the Senate and the House. “Abuse of this kind is intolerable and our hearts go out to the victims. He should do the right thing for all involved and immediately resign from the Legislature.”
The state Democratic Party, while noting that everyone deserves a fair trial, called for Navarrete’s immediate resignation, citing the gravity of the allegations.
A court status conference was scheduled for Aug. 12, and Navarrete’s preliminary hearing was set for Aug. 16, both at 10:30 a.m.