Former Tulare official faces felony charges for sex offenses

Christopher Harrell is charged with meeting a minor for lewd purposes and contact with a minor for a sexual offense

TULARE – A Tulare official who resigned after being arrested for attempting to have sex with a minor has been charged with two felonies.

On Oct. 16, the Tulare County District attorney filed charges against Christopher Harrell, 43, of Tulare for meeting a minor for lewd purposes and contact with a minor for a sexual offense. The charges carry a potential prison term, probation, and registration as a sex offender.

Harrell was one of 13 men arrested for attempting to meet with an underage person they had made contact with over social media. The minor was actually an undercover detective with the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department posing as a 14-year-old girl and a 15- to 17-year-old boy. Detectives with the Sheriff’s Special Victims Unit and Human Trafficking Unit created numerous fake social media accounts and witnessed the men trying to solicit the decoys for sex sending them explicit pictures and using pedophile grooming techniques, such as offering money and gifts, during the two-month investigation. All 13 men, including Harrell, arrived at a staged home thinking they were meeting with a teenager only to be met by law enforcement, including officers with the Visalia and Avenal police departments.

Chris Harrell
43 years old

Harrell, along with nine other men, were released due to the zero-bail system in effect. His arraignment has been scheduled for Dec. 7, 2020, according to the DA’s office.

Harrell is the former chair of Tulare’s Board of Public Utilities Commission and resigned from that position on Oct. 9 after Mayor Jose Sigala called for a special meeting later that day to remove him from the city commission. Sigala had set 3 p.m. Oct. 9 as the deadline for Harrell’s resignation, and called for the special meeting, which requires 24 hours notice. The meeting was canceled after the mayor received Harrell’s resignation a few hours before the meeting was set to begin.

Harrell was nominated by Sigala and appointed by the council on a 5-0 vote on Dec. 18, 2018 and was the chairman at the time of his resignation. The current councilmembers were seated for that decision including Dennis Mederos, Carlton Jones, Greg Nunley, Terry Sayre and Sigala. At its July 2, 2019 meeting, Sigala, Vice Mayor Dennis Mederos and Councilmember Sayre appointed Harrell to also serve as the city’s alternate on the Mid-Kaweah Groundwater Sustainability Agency. Harrell had previously been involved with the Tulare Historical Museum.

Harrell did not address his arrest directly in the resignation letter only saying that “under the current circumstances and the controversy which exists as related to me,” that he did not wish to put his fellow board members and the Public Works Department in a position where they were unable to perform their jobs due to “unwarranted distractions.”

“For these reasons, I reluctantly must step away from the City of Tulare’s Board of Public Utilities and as its current Chairman,” he wrote. “It is important in this regard for me to express to the great men and women of the Public Works Department that you will always have my support, and I will continue to admire all of the incredible work which you do for the citizens of Tulare. Through your efforts, you are truly setting up the City of Tulare for great things presently, as well as in the future, and I am confident that you shall continue to do so.”

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