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A Democratic state lawmaker denied saying at a conference in August she would throw Tolleson’s lobbyist off a balcony “to kill her,” as city officials claim in seeking a restraining order.
But state Rep. Leezah Sun told The Arizona Republic she did say “that if I see her again, you know, I will b----slap her.” It marked the second incident after Sun claims the lobbyist made “false statements” to Tolleson police after a May fracas at the West Valley suburb’s City Hall.
Those two incidents, plus the Phoenix Democrat’s alleged attempt to follow the lobbyist’s husband and city manager’s teen daughter on Instagram, prompted three Tolleson officials to petition for an injunction in mid-October to halt Sun's alleged harassment.
City Manager Reyes Medrano, lobbyist Pilar Sinawi and government affairs support specialist Alicia Guzman claim in the petition that Sun’s “actions and statements have no place in civilized society and are not protected by the First Amendment.” A Maricopa County Court commissioner approved the petition on Oct. 18.
The order for one year prohibits Sun from contacting, emailing or calling the trio, or going to or near the Tolleson Civic Center. Doing so could subject the lawmaker to arrest and prosecution.
In response to questions about the order, Sun sent a 3,400-word email claiming she was a victim of an “ongoing defamation campaign” by the three city officials. She denied using profanity during the May meeting and “most certainly did not make death threats of any variety” in August.
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“I would like to have this injunction overturned immediately,” she wrote.
Yet Sun, in an Oct. 30 phone interview with The Republic, acknowledged she could request a hearing to challenge the injunction but hasn’t yet done so. Asked if she would, Sun answered, “That is for me to know.”
She suggested she might have said she’d throw Sinawi off a balcony, though she insisted she wouldn’t have meant it. She accused Tolleson officials of making false statements against her because she’s Asian.
“I know that I’m very colorful with my language,” she said. “ But I don’t believe in harm. I don’t believe in violence, even though, you know, I do speak with violent words like, you know, ‘I’ll slap her.’”
According to accounts reported in the petition and a Tolleson police incident report, the acrimony originally kicked off when Sun showed up on a late May afternoon seeking to talk with the mayor or “any City Council members that were available.” They weren’t around, but Sun was able to meet with Medrano and other staff members.
The tone was cordial at first, but things went south when the discussion turned to the legislative repeal of a $25 million off-ramp project in Tolleson that lawmakers had previously approved.
Who is Leezah Sun?
Sun is a first-time lawmaker and progressive who has portrayed herself as an outsider to typical Democratic politics – a theme she believes recurred in her battle with Tolleson.
She described herself in a May 2022 Republic article as a former East Coast pharmaceutical worker who moved to Phoenix in 2005 and became a stay-at-home mom. She then became a liberal activist and registered to vote for the first time in 2018, having previously considered politics “unhealthy.”
Sun ran for the Legislature unsuccessfully in 2020 but beat incumbent Lorenzo Sierra and political newcomer Natacha Chavez last year in Legislative District 22’s Democratic primary election.
She went on to easily win the general election as one of the Democrat-heavy district's two House members, along with current House Minority Leader Lupe Contreras.
City employees describe a profanity-filled conversation
Sun grew belligerent during an impromptu meeting about a freeway off-ramp with the three Tolleson officials on May 31 at the Civic Center, according to the documents.
She “became agitated and aggressive during this update,” records state, at one point yelling, “Bull----! That’s bull----! I’m going to tell you how it is.”
She shouted: “Our legislators have been f---ing us up.” That prompted a comment from Sinawi indicating, “We don’t use that language here.”
As Sun appeared to grow more heated in the conversation, staff members watched with trepidation as the lawmaker began occasionally rummaging through her purse for some unknown object. They believed she “might be looking for a weapon.”
Claiming that Medrano was disrespecting her, she called him a “d-----bag” and leaned forward, giving him a long stare as if in a “trance.” Staff members believed she wanted to “physically hurt" Medrano, records state.
The officials ended the meeting “seriously alarmed and disturbed” at Sun’s conduct. They never raised their voices or used profanity, according to the documents.
As Guzman walked Sun out, staff recorded the lawmaker yelling loudly that Medrano was a “f---ing a--hole” and “d-----bag.”
The Arizona Capitol Times’ Yellow Sheet Report first reported on the bizarre meeting and published the police report.
Sun allegedly made the “balcony” comment on Aug. 29 at the JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass Resort & Spa during a League of Arizona Cities and Towns conference. As conference attendees mingled, Sun was talking with several people when the city of Tolleson came up.
“Pilar Sinawi better not show her face here, or I will smack her in the face and throw her off this balcony to kill her!” the petition alleges Sun said. One of the witnesses was “disturbed” enough to report Sun’s statements to the police, and Medrano and Sinawi now fear for their safety, the petition says.
The petition says Sun then sent a request on Sept. 13 to follow Medrano’s 18-year-old daughter on Instagram and also Sinawi’s husband. It added Sun has never met and doesn’t know either person. The city officials believe Sun did it to “threaten and intimidate them.”
Sun’s response: 'Did lose my cool a bit'
Sun claims the officials made “false statements” about her words and demeanor. But the Democratic lawmaker's own description of events reveals that whatever tensions existed among the group, she escalated the problem.
During the conversation about why the freeway project’s funding vanished, for example, she wrote that she became “increasingly frustrated” at Medrano.
“Perhaps” she stared at him, she wrote, but she wasn’t being “physically aggressive.” Walking down the hallway with Guzman, she was just “blowing off steam” and didn’t know her insults were being recorded. She admits in her response that she “did lose my cool a bit.”
In the interview with The Republic, Sun said she was being intentionally “defamed” to keep her from being reelected next year. The district is hotly contested, and she’s the “only progressive candidate here,” she said.
“They’ve been promoting corporate Dems here for decades,” she said. “They’ve been after me since 2019.”
She didn’t like Medrano’s “macho-man attitude” during the May meeting and admitted she “got upset” at him.
“Calling someone a d-----bag is not a crime,” she said.
She said the conference allegation was made by an anonymous person with no supporting evidence.
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“It’s hearsay, OK, and when I talk in such a manner, I always provide a disclaimer,” she said. Asked what she said in the disclaimer during the conference, Sun made the comment that she would "b----slap" Sinawi.
Her opponents have made numerous “false accusations” in trying to smear her, she said.
“Is it because I’m the only Asian person in this community?” she asked.
She said the accusations about the Instagram requests were also made “without proof,” noting "multiple people" manage her social media accounts. But she added: “Who cares if I did a request email? Is that a crime?”
Sun said the whole affair is “just nothing to me” and she’s “tickled” by it.
“This is corruption,” she said. “If they don’t want to work with their elected officials, you know, we can’t help them unless they work with us, and vice versa.”
Attorney: City obtained injunction 'to protect its employees'
Attorney Allen Quist, whose firm works for Tolleson under contract, said the city obtained the injunction “to protect its employees.” But he added he could say no more about the “active legal matter.”
“The City believes its petition speaks for itself and currently has nothing further to add,” Quist said in response to questions from The Republic.
Contreras, the House minority leader, said he hasn’t yet talked with Sun about the restraining order.
“I’m not familiar with the details, but this is obviously a serious matter,” he said. “It would be premature to say anything more at this time.”
No one has formally complained to the House Ethics Committee about Sun, according to the committee’s chair, Rep. Joseph Chaplik.
Chaplik, R-Scottsdale, presided over two high-profile ethics cases this year: the expulsion of former Rep. Liz Harris, R-Chandler, for lying about false information presented to the Legislature and the censure of Rep. Stephanie Hamilton, D-Tucson, for repeatedly hiding Bibles kept in the House lounge.
Even if Sun faced an ethics complaint, expulsion would require Democratic votes to meet the two-thirds majority threshold.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona court grants restraining order against Rep. Leezah Sun