Sonoma Instagram influencer faces criminal charges after accusing Petaluma Latino couple of attempted kidnapping
The mom and influencer at the center of a viral kidnapping allegation at a Petaluma Michaels store last December has been charged with giving false information to police, Sonoma County prosecutors confirmed Thursday.
Katie Sorensen, of Sonoma, faces two misdemeanor charges four months after she accused a Latino couple from Petaluma of attempting to kidnap her two children Dec. 7 at the local craft store. She would later document the allegations, now widely viewed as a case of racial profiling, in two Instagram videos that garnered 4.5 million views and set off a firestorm of media attention.
In the videos posted Dec. 13, Sorensen recounted in harrowing detail how she had narrowly avoided a pair of shoppers attempting to kidnap her two kids.
The couple who found themselves in the crosshairs of the growing controversy last year are longtime local residents and parents to five, Sadie and Eddie Martinez. They expressed relief over the news Thursday afternoon, following months of campaigning to hold Sorensen accountable.
“We’re very happy with the news,” Sadie said a few hours after learning of the charges. “It’s a nice step toward justice. It gives you hope.”
Sorensen did not respond to social media messages or a message left at a phone number linked to one of her social media accounts. Her attorney, Marin-based Charles Dresow, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Thursday.
In the days following the high-profile accusations, Petaluma police announced Sorensen’s claims were without merit and cleared the couple of any wrongdoing. But the episode left the Petaluma family reeling after their innocuous trip to buy a decorative baby Jesus launched them into the public eye.
The family learned of its part in the tale that had circulated like wildfire online only after Petaluma police released security camera stills of the Martinezes.
“My kid came to me and showed me the picture, and said, ‘Mom this looks like you’,” Sadie said in an interview with the Argus-Courier in December.
The false allegations against the Martinezes touch on a familiar, but painful trend involving white people calling the police on people of color. Similar incidents, including a woman who falsely claimed she was threatened by a Black man in New York’s Central Park to the so-called “BBQ Becky,” who dialed 911 to report Black people barbecuing at an Oakland park, have drawn national attention.
It also marked a turning point for Sadie, who has been propelled into a leading activist role in recent months, becoming more vocal on social media, participating in more demonstrations and speaking up at community events.
Petaluma Mayor Teresa Barrett appointed Sadie Martinez to the city’s citizen-led advisory committee on policing and race relations, where she recently debuted her version of San Francisco’s Caren Act, which made racially motivated 911 calls a crime.
But Sadie has also long-championed consequences for the woman who thrust her family into the national spotlight.
In a phone call Thursday morning, a representative with the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office told Sadie of the charges against Sorensen, she said.
Sonoma County Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell said the charges - giving false information to a police officer and giving false information to a police dispatcher each come with a maximum penalty of six months in jail.
Staebell said Sorensen has already been notified of the charges, with arraignment scheduled for 8:30 a.m. May 13.
“It was a good day today, not just for us,” Sadie said a few hours after learning of the charges. “It gives everyone a little bit of help. Things like this do happen, and we wondered for a while if she would ever face charges.”
Editor’s Note: Due to a source’s error, a previous version of this story misstated who informed the Martinez family of the charges against Sorensen.
Contact Kathryn Palmer at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @KathrynPlmr.