A light sentence handed down in a child sex abuse case in Santa Barbara has left the victim’s family concerned that more children could be at risk. Cesar Trejo-Acosta pled guilty to one felony charge of battery with serious bodily injury at a court hearing on November 30. Trejo-Acosta sexually assaulted his three-year-old cousin a decade ago.
Judge Clifford R. Anderson III sentenced him to a year in County Jail and three years’ probation. Trejo-Acosta must also complete a sex offender rehabilitation program when he is released from jail. The case, however, is not all that it seems. The victim’s family says the District Attorney’s Office and Santa Barbara Police Department overlooked a longer timeline of abuse, possibly involving more than one victim.
The case made its debut in juvenile court, where Trejo-Acosta was charged with two counts of oral copulation and one count of penetration with a foreign object. It involved one incident between Trejo-Acosta and the victim, who were respectively 17 and 3 years old at the time. However, the victim, who is now 14, said that the abuse continued for a longer period.
Prosecutor Wes Meyer said his review of the police investigation turned up no evidence that concretely showed any acts happened after Trejo-Acosta turned 18. “Sometimes I think what happens is when cases are delayed this much, the ability to recall is hampered,” said Meyer. “The accuracy on dates becomes compromised.”
Had Trejo-Acosta been tried in juvenile court, said Meyer, the District Attorney’s office would have lost jurisdiction over him following his release from jail. To transfer the case over to adult court, where there would be a strike on his criminal record, Meyer had to work out a plea deal with the defendant — one where Trejo-Acosta would plead guilty to battery with serious bodily injury and not have to register as a sex offender under California Penal Code 290.
“I am so disappointed with the system because he is only going to see 365 days in jail and he won’t even be registered as a sex offender in the Megan’s Law website,” Maria Acosta, the victim’s mother, wrote in a victim impact statement.
The battery charge is a non-registrable offense, but a strike will go on Trejo-Acosta’s record. He will go through sex offender rehabilitation treatment after he completes his stint in jail.
Jacqueline Inda, a community activist working with the family, wondered if the outcome would have been different if they’d had more resources to hire a private investigator and put pressure on the DA’s Office. “What’s the process here, then, if the families did decide to hire a private investigator?” Inda asked. “Do they have to go through a grand jury?”
What’s just as alarming as the sentence, the families say, is that Trejo-Acosta has worked in various childcare capacities throughout the county. According to Erika Cabrera, the aunt of the victim in the case, Trejo-Acosta has worked at the Rockin’ Kids Play Center at La Cumbre Shopping Mall, the children’s section of the Eastside Library, and the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s A-OK after-school program. However, a spokesperson with the school district said that there were no records of a Cesar Trejo, Cesar Acosta, or Cesar Trejo_Acosta, and neither the library or play center have confirmed his employment. Other victims have not come forward, but the family worries there may be more.
The emotional toll of the case on the family is enormous. “This has impacted my daughter’s growth and she will have to carry this heavy burden with her throughout her life; while her offender walks free and never really faces the repercussions of his actions,” Maria Acosta wrote in the victim impact statement.