SLO developer accused of violent attack on girlfriend pleads out days before trial

San Luis Obispo developer Ryan Petetit listens in court during his second arraignment in September 2016, where he pleaded not guilty to felony charges stemming from domestic violence he committed against a girlfriend.
San Luis Obispo developer Ryan Petetit listens in court during his second arraignment in September 2016, where he pleaded not guilty to felony charges stemming from domestic violence he committed against a girlfriend.

A once up-and-coming San Luis Obispo developer is now a multiple felon after pleading no contest in a criminal case that alleged he smashed his girlfriend’s head through a glass window nearly three years ago.

During a readiness conference Thursday ahead of his scheduled trial next week, Ryan Petetit, former CEO of the now-defunct PB Companies, LLC, pleaded no contest to all five felony charges against him — two counts of inflicting corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant, plus assault, false imprisonment and dissuading a witness.

Petetit’s attorney, Patrick Fisher, said Monday that Petetit entered an open plea, meaning that Superior Court Judge Dodie Harman has the discretion to sentence him to as little as probation or as much as five years and eight months in state prison.

Fisher declined to comment Monday ahead of the judge’s ruling at the Jan. 17, 2019. sentencing hearing.

Fisher said, however, that Harman indicated at Thursday’s hearing she is considering sentencing Petetit to a yet-to-be-determined period of formal probation, but will await an assessment from the San Luis Obispo County Probation Department.

Fisher said that Harman will allow Petetit to withdraw his no-contest pleas should she decide to send him to prison.

The case has quietly dragged on for three years. Petetit was arrested on Thanksgiving Day 2015 for an incident four days earlier at his Arroyo Grande home in which he allegedly assaulted his girlfriend and would not allow her to call 911, the Arroyo Grande Police Department said at the time.

Petetit’s victim reportedly fled to a family member’s house out of the area, then went to a hospital outside San Luis Obispo County, where medical officials contacted Arroyo Grande police.

Petetit was released from custody shortly afterward after posting $50,000 bail, according to court records.

The Tribune does not identify alleged victims of domestic violence.

Jury selection was set to begin Nov. 27, but during pre-trial motions in late October, deputy district attorney Kristy Imel filed motions asking Superior Court Judge Dodie Harman to allow testimony and allegations of past domestic violence and threatening behavior made by two former girlfriends, one of whom is suing Petetit for at least $10 million.

In her motions, Imel argued that prospective jurors should hear testimony from the other women, who Imel wrote were slapped, pushed, pushed up against walls, grabbed, dragged and strangled by Petetit.

“Here, the defendant has assaulted three domestic partners in a five-year period,” Imel wrote. “From this evidence it is clear he has an intense need to control and dominate women he is in relationships with.”

In another motion, Imel requested Harman allow the jurors to hear expert testimony from San Jose marriage and family therapist Richard Ferry, who specializes in domestic violence issues. Ferry was one of the prosecution’s most notable witnesses in the domestic violence trial of a San Miguel man who was convicted of attempted murder on Nov. 16.

In a trial brief filed Oct. 25, Fisher wrote that on the day of the alleged attack on his most recent alleged victim, she attended a birthday party with Petetit and about a dozen other people. At a restaurant, Fisher wrote, the woman became intoxicated and grew “upset and jealous” when Petetit bought a round of drinks for other women.

According to Fisher’s filing, the two got into a verbal argument that continued at Petetit’s house, where Petetit called a friend to drive the woman home because she could not drive. When the friend arrived, however, the woman “went into Mr. Petetit’s closet and grabbed a shotgun Mr. Petetit had stored there,” Fisher wrote.

“As Mr. Petetit attempted to wrestle the shotgun away from (the alleged victim), she was pushed into a nearby window causing the window to break,” Fisher wrote. “(The woman) did not suffer any lacerations or scrapes when the window broke.”

Fisher wrote that the woman took a cell phone photo of the window and left the home on foot.

Fisher wrote that he planned to call several witnesses to the stand to impeach the credibility of Petetit’s former girlfriends.

Fisher’s account contradicts a 2015 Arroyo Grande police report, which said that when Petetit’s girlfriend attempted to call a friend for help, Petetit took the phone from her, grabbed her by the throat and lifted her off the ground. “The next thing she remembers is her head went through the bathroom window,” according to the report.

“(The woman) stated she opened her eyes and saw stars and the night sky,” reads the report, quoted in a 2015 Tribune article.

Petetit co-founded PB Companies in 2012 with real estate developer and attorney John Belsher. Belsher previously worked on the SLO Public Market at Bonetti Ranch project on the corner of Tank Farm and South Higuera, and is currently building the Downtown Terrace project near the Creamery on Higuera Street.

Shortly after the assault charges were filed against Petetit, Belsher announced that his partner would step down at least temporarily as CEO of PB Companies. California Secretary of State records show that PB Companies’ business license is currently suspended.

Belsher could not be reached for comment Monday morning.

The 2015 incident was not the first time Petetit was accused of domestic violence or found himself in trouble with the law.

In August 2012, according to court records, Santa Barbara police responded to a domestic violence report at a hotel room where Petetit had been staying with a girlfriend. Police said they found the woman sobbing on the floor with marks on her neck.

The alleged victim in that case would not cooperate with prosecution.

The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office unsuccessfully pursued a misdemeanor corporal injury charge against Petetit following an incident on New Year’s Day in 2013.

According to a police report, Pismo Beach police responded to a bar where Petetit and the woman involved in the 2012 domestic violence case had an altercation. Police said the woman had had red marks on her neck and a visible red bump on her head, the Tribune reported in 2015. The woman reportedly told police that Petetit becomes violent when drinking.

Aside several misdemeanor cases involving allegations of public intoxication and writing bad checks, Petetit has also faced a litany of civil lawsuits — some related to his business dealings with PB Companies and others from alleged actions.

An ongoing 2016 lawsuit alleges that Petetit punched and kicked several holes in the walls of a house he was remodeling during “numerous drunken tirades.”

Correction: This article originally misstated John Belsher’s involvement in the SLO Public Market project. He dropped out of the project in December 2015.

Matt Fountain: 781-7909, @mattfountain1
Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune