The race for an open Phoenix City Council seat has turned sharply personal in its final few weeks, with opponents of District 7 candidate Cinthia Estela raising questions about her temperament based on family problems that ended up in the justice system.
In one instance investigated by authorities, her children told a court-appointed attorney that Estela punched one of them in the nose. In another, she was arrested after an argument with her brother got out of hand.
In a statement to Phoenix New Times Wednesday, Estela said it was unfortunate that supporters of her opponent, Yassamin Ansari, had stooped to such a level. But she did not directly address the specifics of the allegations.
"The reason we have a justice system is to examine the accuracy of claims like these," she said. "The incidents being referenced were thoroughly investigated and it was determined that they were either without merit or I was exonerated. I have custody of my children and provide a loving and safe home for them. The difficulties I suffered in my marriage are in the past, and I am moving forward as a stronger better woman.”
In court paperwork from 2014 obtained by New Times as part of a tip, an attorney appointed by the court on behalf of Estela's two children described an interview with the children, who were 6 and 7 at the time, in which they both said that Estela punched the 7-year-old in the face "causing a bloody nose" after the boy said he would call the police on her.
Besides that incident, which allegedly occurred on Mother's Day, the two children said that Estela would scream at them and "'beat them all the time" if they didn't follow the rules, says the report, which was submitted in Maricopa County Superior Court by attorney Moriah Burnett Windsor. One child said Estela had "left a bruise on her arm," the court records say.
Windsor told New Times she could not comment on the case due to attorney-client confidentiality. But court records show she found the allegations concerning enough to recommend that the children's father file a police report and seek a suspension of visits with Estela.
That motion was denied after a judge said that there wasn't evidence of immediate danger if it wasn't granted, but he did order a Department of Child Safety (DCS) investigation. The report that stemmed from that investigation is confidential, but Estela's attorney, Andrea Mouser (who had her law license suspended in 2015 after racking up a number of violations ), asserted in a later filing that DCS found the allegation unsubstantiated.
In response to follow-up questions from New Times, Estela denied ever abusing her children "in any way."
"These allegations are misleading and taken out of context regarding the full nature of my divorce," she said, adding that DCS and the court system gave her custody of her children.
Yet as records show, following the allegations, she and her ex-husband agreed to an arrangement in which she received only supervised visitation of her kids for a period of time, and she had to complete a domestic violence class.
Estela did not immediately respond to a follow-up asking about the contents of the DCS report and if she would provide a copy of it for review.
The information about the allegations stems from a voluminous, contentious 13-year family court case between Estela and her ex-husband. Estela has said in the court filings reviewed by New Times that the relationship was physically abusive. Last week, she released a statement claiming that her political opponents had attacked her for being a survivor of domestic violence.
"While the domestic violence I suffered and my ultimate divorce was a difficult time in my life, I survived it, and my life is stable, happy and secure,” she said in her second statement to New Times.
The extensive and messy case provides ample fodder for those trying to stop Estela's campaign. New Times was tipped off to the document by someone who sent an anonymous email from an encrypted account service with court documents attached. The person claimed to have known Estela for some time, and claimed to be "disturbed" about her becoming a city council member.
Coincidently, the email came around an hour after New Times was sent an email from a political action committee supporting Estela's opponent, which referenced some of the same documents.
The race for District 7, which stretches from Roosevelt Row to Laveen, has been fought fiercely since beginning last year. Backed by outgoing councilmember Michael Nowakowski, Estela, currently serving as a Laveen Community Council member, won the five-way November primary by just 116 votes. Voters must now choose between her and Ansari, who works as an adviser for a nonprofit company dealing with climate issues, in the March 9 runoff election.
Estela's more conservative approach to police oversight has earned financial support for her campaign from some police unions. However, it appears Estela and police officers haven't always been on the best of terms. The tipster provided a Glendale police report that shows Estela was booked into Glendale City Jail in 2015 after she was uncooperative with police who were attempting to resolve a domestic dispute between her and her brother. Glendale police confirmed it was their report.
In that case, Estela's brother called the police to report she was screaming at him and "going crazy." When police arrived, they found Estela yelling at her brother, his wife, and their three kids, all of whom were staying with her. Estela was upset because she said their dog had defecated in her bedroom.
The officer wrote in the report that Estela was acting irrationally and that even after he separated them, she would not calm down, leading him to believe things would get worse if he left. So, over her brother's objections, he placed Estela under arrest for disorderly conduct with a domestic violence enhancement. It appears she was never charged in the incident. But it's not the only instance in which Estela has faced arrest or been accused of verbally attacking a family member.
Records from Country Meadows Justice Court in Tolleson show a warrant for Estela's arrest was active for around a month in 2015 after she missed a hearing on a ticket for driving without a valid license.
And a long-circulating recording of Estela verbally attacking another of her brothers has been surfaced by a political action committee that supports Ansari. The recording is of Estela leaving a message over the phone while she was in Peru after the death of her father.
"I don't give a fuck what bullshit what you think you got, you don't got shit since you can't come to this country. Your ass is still very wet and your bitch is more wet than anybody else," Estela says.
Later in the call, she asserts that her brother was "coming around her family" and asking questions like she was "some type of criminal."
"I'm not no fucking criminal .... I'm a fucking American," she shouts. "Don't fuck with me dude."
When New Times inquired about the video previously, someone who identified himself as a different brother defended her, saying that Estela was responding to a sibling who was acting in a "destructive" way, at a trying time, and Estela was just trying to defend the family.
Kyle Moyer, a campaign consultant who says he's volunteering on Estela's campaign, previously said Estela told him that she was referring to how her brother was "wet behind the ears" and not using the slur for undocumented people. He claimed that the slur would have no connection as Estela's family was from Peru, not Mexico.
"It doesn't have application here, particularly to those of Central or South American linage. It's not part of their cultural or linguistic lexicon," he said in a text.
In her statement to New Times, Estela said she has since repaired her relationship with the brother who was staying with her. She appears to have also repaired her relationship with the brother she yelled at. She recently posted a photo of them getting pho before going canvassing.
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