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'I Am Still Haunted': Women Accuse Rising SF Political Star of Rape and Abuse

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Jon Jacobo speaks alongside members of the recently formed Mission Vendor Association at the 24th Street BART plaza during a press conference in San Francisco on Nov. 22, 2023, condemning an upcoming rule banning vending on Mission Street. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

View the full episode transcript.

Jon Jacobo was a rising star in the progressive wing of San Francisco politics when a colleague publicly accused him of rape in 2021. At that time, he largely escaped scrutiny from members of his own party.

But as Josh Koehn of the San Francisco Standard reported in mid-April, three more women have publicly accused Jacobo of sexual abuse and domestic violence. And they say that leaders treated their allegations with indifference.


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Episode Transcript

This is a computer-generated transcript. While our team has reviewed it, there may be errors.

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Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Hey, just a quick warning before we get started here. This episode describes sexual abuse. Please take care while listening. I’m Ericka Cruz Guevarra and Welcome to the Bay. Local news to keep you rooted.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: There’s a whole network of people who make San Francisco politics and government go round, and that network has been shaken up. And it all centers around a community activist named Jon Jacobo, a once rising political star who was being groomed for the top.

Josh Koehn: He was very much someone who was climbing up the ranks, up the ladder of politics, and was seen as someone who could be an heir apparent to become supervisor of the mission.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Jacobo had been super active in San Francisco’s Mission District and was the director of a powerful affordable housing nonprofit called TODCO. But behind the scenes, women were coming out to accuse Jacobo of rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence. And they say their stories were ignored.

Josh Koehn: The woman felt like Jon Jacobo did not get held accountable, that his political allies were able to lean on people into silence.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Today, the allegations against Jon Jacobo and how his political allies turned a blind eye.

Josh Koehn: And the last few years, Jon Jacobo has been a community activist in the Mission District of San Francisco.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Josh Keene is a senior reporter for the San Francisco Standard.

Josh Koehn: He served as a director for TODCO, which is one of the most powerful affordable housing nonprofits in the Bay area. He did a lot of work around helping community nonprofits in the mission. He served on the board of a group called Chi Venti Quatro. He also was, instrumental in the Latino Task force. This is someone who was deeply connected in San Francisco politics, particularly when it comes to the progressive wing of Democratic politics in the city.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Well, how did people describe Jon Jacobo’s personality?

Josh Koehn: John Jacobo was described to me as someone who’s very gregarious, can be quite charming, someone who is very astute politically and knows how to make connections. Whether or not those connections are genuine is up to the person who was meeting with him. I was told by multiple people that John Jacobo is someone who can be a little bit manipulative and use, those political connections to get to the next rung of the ladder.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: He’s this rising political star in San Francisco, this really charismatic guy. And then in 2021, a woman named Sasha Perrigo comes out and accuses John Jacobo of rape. What was she alleging? Exactly.

Josh Koehn: So Sasha Perrigo, in the summer of 2021, published an open letter on Twitter, and it was a seven page document that laid out in very excruciating detail how she felt that Jon Jacobo had raped her in a night in which she had come to his apartment. She had been telling him that, hey, I’m just going to come. We’re going to hang out, you know, maybe have some drinks.

Josh Koehn: And over the course of the night, she said that he was very aggressive and kept advancing on her until the morning after they were hanging out. She woke up and he forced himself on her, is what she alleged. When Sasha Perego came forward, the document that she published laid out a whole host of allegations, but it also included a rape kit that she took, within the days of the incident.

Josh Koehn: It sent shockwaves through the whole political community. Not only was this a rising star in politics, but she also worked in the affordable housing space similar to much of Cobo. And so this had layers to it in which people in the housing community, people in the political space, people in Latino politics and the mission, everyone was kind of taken aback by these allegations.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: And I remember this happening and it really being like a bombshell moment. Did Sasha Perrigo pursue charges against Jacobo after this?

Josh Koehn: Sasha decided that she was not going to press charges with police. She had a lot of distrust of the criminal justice system, particularly in the way that it treats communities of color, but also in the way that it treats victims.

Josh Koehn: And so she felt that there were other forms of accountability that could be obtained by coming forward in the fashion that she did. However, she was very disappointed to see that there were not a lot of steps taken. Jacob did step down from a commissioned post with the city, but he retained his job and many of his political allies came to his defense.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: So in other words, there was a little bit of shock, a little bit of a response, but things sort of just fizzled out from there. It sounds like.

Josh Koehn: Yeah. For him, I think it was a chance to step back, I think, where his political aspirations were to probably run for supervisor. Those were probably eliminated. But other than that, he very much actually was starting to make a return to the limelight in just the last year.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: I mean, Josh, that was three years ago that Sasha Perrigo posted those allegations on Twitter. Flash forward to April of this year, and we’re talking about this now because of a story that you broke for the San Francisco Standard about even more accusations that have come out against Jon Jacobo. What did you find?

Josh Koehn: Three women actually got in touch with me, and they told me, you know, we have been wanting to tell our story because actually, we filed police reports after Sasha came forward. We went to people in local politics that we knew to try to get their help, and those efforts didn’t go anywhere.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Yeah. Let’s talk about these women and their stories a little bit. I mean, who are these women exactly? Are they people like Sasha who are also sort of working within the realm of local San Francisco politics?

Josh Koehn: Yeah, very much so. These three women, I have all worked at very high levels of local government and public policy. These are people that are well known in the political space. In some ways, that actually were acted as a detriment to them in trying to get their story out.

Josh Koehn: What they found is that the people in power, Jacobo’s political allies, were uninterested in hearing their stories, and they also knew that not only was there a potential risk for retribution from him and his allies, but that could end up leading to damage to their professional careers. And they also had fears for their own safety.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: And they all wanted to remain anonymous and talking with you for this story. Right?

Josh Koehn: Yeah. So I reported this story over the course of a year. Lots of interviews, lots of conversations.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: What are the range of accusations they make against him?

Josh Koehn: Yeah, the accusations are quite horrific. They range from harassment, stalking, domestic violence that included strangulation threats, sexual assault and rape.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Zooming in on one of the women. Actually a former partner of Jacobus. Right. And she actually is the one who accuses him of domestic violence. And I wonder if you could tell me a little bit more about her story.

Josh Koehn: The allegations made by the first woman in our story, they started dating in 2015 and they dated for over three years. Almost immediately, he began to abuse her. She didn’t know what to do, and she kind of fell under a trap and felt like she couldn’t get out. The accusations range from breaking their furniture, breaking through doors to get to her, locking her into their home, choking her multiple times.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Threatening to kill her, right?

Josh Koehn: Threatening to kill her. She she said that he would point a gun at her and talk about killing her and her family, and we also had audio recordings in which he is heard threatening her.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: And for the other women, what about them wanted their the allegations they made take place.

Josh Koehn: So the other two women who are featured in this story, one of them alleged that Jon Jacobo raped her in the winter of 2018. Her allegations are very similar to Sasha Burgos, in which she says that John continued to pester her to come over and see her. She allowed him to come to her apartment. She said, we are not hooking up or anything like that. We can just talk.

Josh Koehn: And she says that almost immediately after he came to her home, he forced himself on her and she froze. Which is not an uncommon experience for many victims of sexual assault. She only later realized through quite a bit of therapy. She said, that this was in fact rape because she had told him no many times as he was removing her pants and forcing himself on her. So the third woman, her incidents there were two occurred in 2016.

Josh Koehn: She says that after a night out in which John had been drinking, she allowed him to stay at her apartment in a common area, and she had roommates. She says that when she woke up in her bed, she thought her boyfriend had come home late. And instead, what she found was that Jacomo had allegedly entered her room, gotten naked and into bed with her, and then tried to force himself on her.

Josh Koehn: That morning, she managed to get him to snap out of it, apparently, and he quickly left and she tried to rationalize it. Which is, again, when we talk about locking up, out of fear or trying to rationalize someone’s behavior because you feel like maybe this is not indicative of who they are. Over time, she kind of stayed away from him.

Josh Koehn: But then there was a night out with friends later in 2016, in Oakland, in which they went out a group for drinks and dancing and went back to a friend’s house, and she passed out and found out later that her friend actually had to allegedly rescue her from Jacobo, trying to take advantage of her while she was unconscious.

Josh Koehn: And that friend, who’s a commissioner for the Recreation and Parks Department in Oakland, who actually went on record saying that she felt that if she had not come in and stopped it, that she feels like he would have raped her. So those are the the three incidents in total.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: And I mean, yeah, has has reporting these to the police led to anything for these women.

Josh Koehn: So the women went to police in the months after Sasha Burgo came forward with her public accusations. All of the women told me that they did not necessarily feel supported or believed. You know, it’s common for law enforcement to try to be very frank with the survivors and let them know these are very difficult cases. We need to get a lot of evidence.

Josh Koehn: But the women I spoke with said this isn’t that this was different. And looking at their police reports, they said that there were a lot of things that were left out. One of the women said she provided evidence that was not even mentioned in her police report. There were also not efforts made. They said, to connect them with outside jurisdictional police departments.

Josh Koehn: That would also have a role in an investigation. The police would counter that argument, and they have been very aggressive in pushing back, saying that they have done everything they can in these cases. However, the women, their story should not be discounted because they have gone through this and they were very brave to come forward and do all of this from the police reports all the way to, telling the story with me.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Coming up, how these women say the political machine protected Jon Jacobo. Stay with us.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: In the first part of this episode, we heard about how multiple women accused Jon Jacobo of sexual abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence. The three women who talked to Josh keen for this story say they were ignored not only by police but also by people who worked with Jon Jacobo, including former San Francisco supervisor Jane Kim, who hired Jacobo back in 2018.

Josh Koehn: The women felt like Jon Jacobo did not get held accountable, that his political allies were able to lean on people into silence. Supervisor Jane Kim, who was his former boss and is now the head of the California Working Families Party. She ran for mayor. She ran for a state senate that she brought Jacobo to a political gala just weeks after Sasha Perrigo accused him of rape.

Josh Koehn: But then I was also told by a very legitimate source that Jane Kim was working to hire John, an attorney, to deal with Sasha Perrigo’s accusation. So that’s one example. John Oberlin, the head of TODCO. He actually was grooming John to take over Taco’s financial operations, which would then make him a significant political player in deciding how to fund ballot measures polling.

Josh Koehn: So when they saw these reports and then they saw him doing TV interviews for the Mission Street vendors, and they knew that he was back on these community boards, they felt, you know what, we have to get this story out because that the very least, we want to make sure that our story is heard.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: When it comes to folks like Jane Kim, who are accused of not responding adequately to these accusations against John Jacobus. How has she responded? How has she and others? I mean, in the party responded to accusations that they protected Jon Jacobo?

Josh Koehn: Yeah. So I spoke with Jane Kim for this story. It was a very curious response I got from her, because she seemed less concerned with the fact that there were three more women who had disturbing allegations against John, who was a protege of hers, and that they had filed police reports.

Josh Koehn: And she seemed more concerned with the timing of the story, asking me, why is this happening now? Her level of outrage with each answer, and this is just to me, seemed to amplify when she realized the serious nature of what I was asking her. You know, I asked her if she was aware of other allegations against John, and she said, no, no, no.

Josh Koehn: Well, you know, actually, yes, I had heard from the San Francisco Women’s Political Committee that there might be others out there, but she never pursued it. I have not seen any response from her since the story published in that, probably because there were people who said that she went out of her way to protect Jon Jacobo.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Though she denies that right.

Josh Koehn: She did deny it. And she said that she’d never tried to help him find an attorney. You know, when it comes to TODCO, TODCO announced the day the story ran that Jon Jacobo had resigned from his position as a director with the housing organization. They said that they were not aware of the extent of the allegations in my story. Despite having an internal review of his work, even the the nonprofits within the mission that he had coordinated with very muted statements.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Has Jon Jacobo said anything in response to these accusations in your story?

Josh Koehn: No. Jon Jacobo did not respond to multiple requests for comment, including an email with very detailed questions. And he has not said anything that I have seen since the story published.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: After Josh’s story came out in mid April, allegations against other figures in San Francisco politics have surfaced. They include Kevin Ortiz, a former staffer for Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, and Jay Chang, who runs the moderate group neighbors for a Better San Francisco. Josh says these stories, regardless of party, show a pattern of people choosing to protect their political allies first. Why do these political figure. What what stake do they have in protecting someone? I guess like Jon Jacobo?

Josh Koehn: Well, in this kind of it’s a, a deeper, complex question, but it comes down to the way that political tribes protect themselves, that if one of us is accused that we have their back, or if we don’t have their back, we just make sure that we can’t be harmed politically as a result of their alleged improprieties.

Josh Koehn: This is not a partisan issue within the Democratic Party, or even really Democrats and Republicans. There is always going to be this instinct to. Make sure that your click of politics is not harmed, or that you are not personally harmed. And so the the immediate reaction generally is to shut up and and just make sure that, like, let the story go.

Josh Koehn: The media cycles so fast these days that if you can just hunker down for a few days, maybe it’ll blow over. Yeah, but this one has not necessarily blown over. And I think it also just shows that, you know, once you put the lens really on the people hunkering down as well, not just the, accused predator, that a story can maybe have a little bit more impact.

Josh Koehn: As a result of the story, there were two different hearings that were held. One was by the Democratic Party for San Francisco looking into sexual assault and harassment in political spaces. And then there was also a hearing at City Hall called by Supervisor Hillary Ronen to look into a group called sharp.

Hillary Ronen: Good morning, everyone. First, I really want to thank chair Stephanie and supervisor Mel…

Josh Koehn: SHARP Stands for the Office of Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention. It’s actually under the umbrella of the Human Rights Commission. And their responsibilities are to advocate for survivors of sexual harassment and assault, and also try and transform the systems in place to address sexual violence in San Francisco.

Josh Koehn: In the time that Sharp’s been created in six years, they have had zero meetings with the police department. A captain for the San Francisco Police Department, Alexa O’Brian. She runs the Special Victims Unit. Said that she wasn’t even certain they had had a phone call. Was sharp.

Hillary Ronen Have you ever met with SHARP and in any way, shape or form?

Alexa O’Brien: I think they have been on a call with us. Share. Like a call that I’ve been on with maybe one of my other partners. The case, they might have showed up on a call, but no, I have never met directly or had a meeting with sharp. I’ve never sharp.

Josh Koehn: Officials, and it’s a small two person team. Seem to have actually not understood the mission. And instead of actually working with victims to better coordinate, with departments and hold these departments accountable if they’re not seen as supportive, they instead, went out and tried to find victims of sexual assault who were not reporting crimes.

Josh Keene: The sharp hearing on May 9th was. I would call it a dog and pony show. I think it was completely worthless, if I’m being honest. It was a lot of, elected officials thanking each other for trying to do the job, but failing miserably.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: I mean, ultimately, what do survivors want? I mean, I feel like the answer is accountability, I guess. But I mean, could there be criminal charges against Jon Jacobo?

Josh Koehn: Yeah. Every every survivor of sexual assault has, you know, their own priorities. And the women in this story are no different in that sense, in which each of them had a different goal for coming forward, where Sasha Perrigo said that she wanted accountability but did not want to go through the criminal justice system. The three women who came forward in my story say no.

Josh Koehn: We would like to see him charged with crimes. I will add that the story, does end with Sasha Pago, reconsidering whether to press criminal charges. She wasn’t aware of many of the stories that these women told in in our piece. And so when she saw the totality of this, she was aware of other allegations, but nothing to the extent of what was in the story.

Josh Koehn: And so she said that she was going to have a conversation with police and, you know, decide whether or not to move forward. And if if Sasha Perrigo were to press criminal charges against John Jacomo, there is a possibility that the allegations in my story could be part of a larger, prosecutorial case.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: I mean, how does all of this ultimately affect. All of us. Josh, right? Like, even if you’re coming to this story for the first time, maybe you’re not plugged in to San Francisco politics. How does this affect the average person?

Josh Koehn: If you don’t know these people and you don’t vote for these people? It may seem like it’s just like, oh, well, politics is gross and I move on with my day. But my hope is that anyone who reads this story maybe actually says for a second, well, if this is happening to women in power, they are advancing in their careers. And, you know, there’s no way this could happen to them because they’re the people that actually could sound the alarm.

Josh Koehn: If it’s happening to women like that, then it’s probably happening to women all over. You know, also, if you see behavior, with someone you’re close to and, and there’s some kind of encounter that you know, of, but it’s kind of ambiguous, you know, these are the kind of things that maybe, like, we need to check ourselves and say, okay, maybe, maybe I need to be in more open ear, or I’m more helpful to my friends, family, colleagues.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Well, Josh, thank you so much for joining us on the show. I really appreciate it.

Josh Koehn: Thanks, Ericka.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: That was Josh Koehn, a senior reporter for the San Francisco Standard. We’ll leave you some links to Josh’s reporting on this topic in our show notes. This 45 minute conversation with Josh was cut down and edited by producer Maria Esquinca.

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Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Ellie Prickett-Morgan is our intern, they scored this episode and added all the tape. Our senior editor is Alan Montecillo. Music courtesy of the Audio Network. The Bay is a production of listener supported KQED in San Francisco. I’m Ericka Cruz Guevarra. Thanks for listening. Talk to you next time.

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