Arizona Rep. Sonny Borrelli pleaded guilty to a domestic violence charge in 2001 after police responded to repeated emergency calls at his Lake Havasu City home and arrested Borrelli for allegedly punching his wife multiple times.
The second-term Republican representative, who’s running for the Senate in Legislative District 5, reportedly struck his wife in the mouth three times and shoved her to the ground during an argument in March 2001, then tried to leave his home with some of the couple’s children in tow.
A young boy, Borrelli’s then-wife’s child, told police he watched Borrelli “punch his mom (redacted) in the mouth/face with a closed fist three times in rapid succession.”
According to the Lake Havasu City police report, Borrelli’s wife and her son described a violent encounter between the lawmaker and his then wife. Lake Havasu prosecutors charged Borrelli with class 1 misdemeanor assault with domestic violence, though Borrelli ultimately pleaded guilty to a class 1 misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge tagged with domestic violence. That charge covers anything from “fighting, violent or seriously disruptive behavior” to making an unreasonable noise or provoking physical retaliation, according to state statute.
Court records of the domestic violence plea agreement and the restraining order have since been purged from the public record, in accordance with retention laws for local courts in Arizona’s judicial code, leaving only the police report to provide details of the incident.
Borrelli disputes crucial details of that report. He claimed that the incident occurred because his wife had a stress-induced “meltdown,” and the kids “got scared and called the police.” Borrelli told Arizona Capitol Times that any wounds his wife suffered during the incident were self-inflicted, a result of her “psychotic episode.”
“She was having a breakdown, and the kids got scared. Mom’s having a breakdown. They’re thinking they’re calling 911, an ambulance. And I’m like, ‘Get off the phone, we don’t need an ambulance.’ And these kids, calling 911, they don’t understand they’re calling the police when they call 911,” Borrelli said. “This is embarrassing for these kids and their mother, and I caught the heat for it.”
While Borrelli addressed his guilty plea in a low-profile radio show in 2014, the 2001 incident has not otherwise been reported on, though according to Borrelli, it’s been spoken of on the campaign trail. In the 2014 radio interview, Borrelli claimed that he was charged “for a bunch of other stuff, but all that got dropped because there was no evidence to say that any kind of, there was no act of violence.”
Borrelli said he essentially volunteered to be arrested.
“Under the law, you know, the law’s pretty set, the police come for a domestic violence thing – you know, a domestic call – somebody’s going to be removed from the home. So, naturally, the obvious (response) is, ‘I’ll go.’ Anyway, I was charged for disorderly conduct,” Borrelli told radio host Luca Zanna on KTOX.
Borrelli’s step-son told police he was babysitting his younger brother when the couple returned home and began to argue roughly 20 minutes later. The boy told police he looked out his bedroom door and watched Borrelli punch his mother three times, the report stated. Borrelli then halted a 911 call placed by his wife: “He took the phone from her hand and told the operator that everything was OK and hung up,” the report stated.
When police called back to the residence, Borrelli and the step-son both answered from separate phones, but Borrelli ripped the cord out of the phone his step-son picked up, the report stated. The boy told police that, as the couple continued to argue, Borrelli pushed his wife, causing her to fall into a video poker machine in the living room. Borrelli’s wife told police Borrelli pushed her to the ground three separate times.
“His mom could not get up for a few moments and crawled across the floor,” the report said.
At the urging of his mother, Borrelli’s step-son ran into his bedroom and locked the door to call the police. But Borrelli forced open the door, damaging the door frame to do so, and ripped the phone out of the wall, the report stated.
Borrelli then tried to get his own son, a boy from a previous marriage, out of the house, according to the report. The first officers on the scene found Borrelli’s son crying in the garage before they observed Borrelli trying to get into a vehicle. Police stopped him as Borrelli repeatedly told officers that he was “just trying to get the f*** out of the house and that he had not done anything,” the report stated.
Borrelli’s wife told police that he became angry after the two returned home from a friend’s house. “She did not know what made him mad and said that he has a bad temper,” so she told him to get out of the house, the report stated. Borrelli’s wife spoke in general terms about the evening – most of the details from the police report came from interviews with the couple’s children – and she refused assistance from a victim’s advocate, according to the report.
Police observed that Borrelli’s wife had dried blood around her mouth and a bump on the left side of her head, apparently from striking her head on the video poker machine when Borrelli pushed her down. One officer reported she’d “been bleeding from the mouth and her lips were swollen and bruised.”
Borrelli declined to make a statement at the scene, according to the report.
He was later sentenced to 10 days in jail, with all but one day suspended. Borrelli also paid a $400 fine and was placed on one year of probation, and had to undergo a year of anger management classes.
Three years later, a Lake Havasu Municipal Court judge issued an order of protection against Borrelli on behalf of his wife, according to court documents. The case was dismissed less than two months later.
Borrelli filed for divorce in 2013.
In the 2014 radio interview, Borrelli denied striking his wife, and boasted that he was twice elected to office – first to the Lake Havasu City Council, then the Arizona House of Representatives – in the face of allegations on the campaign trail that he beat his wife.
“Now, I don’t beat my wife, and that’s very slanderous,” Borrelli said in 2014. “You know what? That’s crazy. But that’s what the gossip hounds love to say.”
Borrelli and the radio host repeatedly downplayed the dispute as a domestic violence offense. Borrelli in part blamed his wife, who he claimed was stressed because his first wife was looking for “every excuse” to get custody of their son back.
“I take responsibility for the fact that I should have tried to protect my second wife more from the stress from my first wife,” Borrelli said.
When asked why his step-son told police he witnessed Borrelli punch his wife, Borrelli said “that’s absolutely not true… I’m sure he was repeating what his mother was saying.”
Borrelli said he was trying to deescalate the situation and calm down his wife, who told the police she was intoxicated, and who her son reported had swung a crutch at Borrelli, after he struck her three times. Borrelli told the Capitol Times he remembered his wife trying to hit him with a miniature golf putter.
Shannon Rich, policy director for the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, said she could not speak to the specifics of Borrelli’s case. But generally, domestic violence offenders use many tactics to minimize the incidents they’re involved in, including try to paint victims as “crazy.”
“It’s difficult, because every situation is different. But certainly, we know that, in many instances, just speaking generally, perpetrators of domestic violence are going to try to minimize the violence that has occurred,” Rich said. “Whether that comes out as victim-blaming, or trying to say that it was mutual combat, that they were both fighting, that they were both engaging in these behaviors, they’re going to try to minimize the situation and downplay what has happened and put a lot of the blame on the victim.”
Pleading guilty to the domestic violence charge was Borrelli’s best course of action in order to retain custody of his son, he said. Borrelli told the Capitol Times his first wife would have used the incident to try and strip him of custody had he not quickly settled the case against him.
“My ex found about it, my first ex, saw another bite at the apple,” Borrelli said. “So, do I spend $5,000 on just trying to get rid of the misdemeanor, or do I fight with $5,000 in court to retain custody? You know what? I’d spend the $5,000 and go in debt until the day I die to protect my kids, and I had custody of my son.”
Borrelli said his then-wife later tried to recant her testimony and tell prosecutors that he never struck her, but prosecutors threatened to charge her with filing a false police report if she changed her story, a part of what he described as “flaws in the system” that led to his charges.
“Heck, back then, I don’t even think the prosecutor had much leeway on making discretion on any of these charges. Cause all you have to do is just make the accusation and you’re already guilty, with no proof,” Borrelli said.
As he did in the 2014 radio interview, Borrelli also blamed Arizona’s domestic violence statutes for his legal troubles. He further claimed that there was never a good reason for the court to issue a protective order against him in 2004, which his wife sought while they fought about her drinking habits, he said.
“Here’s the problem with these DV laws: He who calls 911 first wins. And they know they got power,” Borrelli said.
Borrelli, who’s had no criminal record in Arizona since the 2001 incident, told the Capitol Times that the renewed accusations of the incident amounted to campaign mudslinging from his primary election opponent, former Sen. Ron Gould.
Gould said the arrest report speaks for itself.
“To me, that sounds a little more than a heated argument, and I think that the voters of Mohave and La Paz counties deserve better than a wife-beater as a senator,” Gould said.