Denver school board candidate José Silva twice has faced accusations that he used physical force with his stepdaughter when she was a minor.
The stepdaughter, 21-year-old Selena Luna, describes spending her teenage years in a strict household in which her mother and stepfather tracked what she did and took the door off her bedroom. Eventually, she was the only one of her three siblings still living there, and she said arguments between her mother and stepfather sometimes made home life tumultuous.
In late 2016, when she’d just turned 17, she said Silva got upset that she’d left school to spend her birthday at her father’s house and struck her repeatedly in an incident that resulted in Luna going first to a family crisis center and then to live with her aunt.
Silva, 41, denies that he abused Luna, though he acknowledges striking her with a belt in what he described as an act of discipline. He said the 2016 incident and another incident that happened in 2015 were family matters that have no place in the public eye.
“This is a family situation in which the children have systematically tried to ruin who I am because I fell in love with my wife,” Silva said in an interview this week.
Court records show Silva was arrested by the Denver Police Department in 2015 on a “wrongs to minors” charge that eventually was dismissed. Silva says a second incident in 2016 resulted in a deferred judgment — a conditional guilty plea that is removed from a person’s criminal record if they complete conditions ordered by a judge. Chalkbeat could not review the case file because it is sealed. Silva declined to make the file available.
Luna was a Denver Public Schools high school student at the time of the incidents. Now an adult, she said she’s concerned Silva is running for school board in the 90,000-student district.
“He should not be around kids,” Luna said.
Silva is a Denver Public Schools graduate who has worked as a political consultant and a pastor, and is now the executive director of the Colorado Association for Infant Mental Health. He is running to represent northeast Denver’s District 4 on the school board.
Silva has run for office before — twice for Denver school board, once for Denver City Council, and once for the Colorado legislature. He has never been elected. This is Silva’s first campaign since the reported incidents with his stepdaughter occurred. Coming forward now, Luna said her aim is to inform current and future voters about his background.
Silva said what happened in 2015 and 2016 was due to family members “interceding” in his marriage to Luna’s mother, and manipulating her children. He described Luna as an unruly teenager, and he sent Chalkbeat screenshots purportedly showing social media conversations she had with friends and relatives that reference drugs and alcohol.
Luna said she did sometimes use marijuana in high school, but the other drug references in the social media messages were either jokes or attempts to seem cool. She describes herself as a good student who would get up two hours before school to take the bus. She said she got good grades, played on the softball team, and worked at a fast food restaurant on the weekends.
Silva’s 2015 arrest happened in November that year, several months after he ran for city council. According to a police report, the incident that led to the arrest began with an argument between Silva and his wife. In a handwritten witness statement included in the report, Silva’s wife wrote that “things got bad” and they “both were pushing and shoving each other.”
Silva’s wife declined to speak to Chalkbeat on the record.
“I have a bad temper and so does my husband,” Silva’s wife wrote in the witness statement. “We both got out of control and could not stop arguing and fighting. I pushed him away and he grabbed my arm to stop me.”
Luna was 15 at the time. According to the police report, Luna and her mother told officers that Luna threatened to call the police, but Silva took her phone. Luna also told the police that during the struggle for the phone, Silva pushed her to the ground, causing rug burns on her elbows.
The police arrived after getting a call from a friend of Luna’s who she’d messaged on Facebook asking for help, the police report says. But, contrary to the official report, Silva maintains it was Luna’s father who called the police — an example, he said, of family members interfering in his marriage and manipulating his stepchildren.
One of the officers on the scene wrote that she saw “small scrapes” on Luna’s elbows “consistent with a carpet burn.” The officer wrote that the teenage girl was “visibly shaking and trying to keep from crying” while talking to the police.
An officer also saw small bruises on Silva’s wife’s arms but no injuries on Silva, the report says. Silva was arrested and charged with assault, wrongs to minors, and disturbing the peace, court records show. The handwritten statement from his wife says, “I feel I’m just as much to blame as my husband. I really feel he shouldn’t have gone to jail and am very upset he did.”
The charges against Silva were eventually dismissed after a mistrial was declared. Available public records don’t say why the case ended in a mistrial or why the charges were dismissed. Luna said she felt forced to write a letter to the judge saying she lied about what happened, and she did as she was told. “I just wanted to be a normal teenager,” Luna said.
Silva said he doesn’t remember such a letter. He said the case was dismissed because he “never touched’ Luna, and she lied to the authorities about what happened. Furthermore, Silva said he didn’t grab his wife; he said he hugged her to try to calm her down.
“I took it to trial,” Silva said of the 2015 case. “I beat that case. It was dismissed. I should have just sealed [the record]. I never sealed it because I have nothing to hide related to that.”
Because the case was dismissed, Silva said that means it legally didn’t happen.
“In the court of justice, people of color are always mischarged,” he said.
About a year later, in late 2016, Silva was involved in another incident with his stepdaughter. There are no public court records related to this incident. Silva said it was erased from his record as part of the deferred judgment deal he made with the court.
But Silva and Luna both described in interviews what happened. Silva and Luna both said it began when Silva picked Luna up from school. Luna said she didn’t want to go with him. She said he was upset because she’d left school a few days before to spend her 17th birthday at her dad’s house. Silva said he was upset about that, but also because he and his wife had recently discovered Luna’s social media messages about drugs and alcohol.
They argued. Silva said Luna got physical with him first, something she strongly denies.
To discipline her, Silva said he hit her with a belt twice on her bottom. Luna said the incident was much worse. They both said it was Silva who called the police.
Both Silva and Luna said that when the officers arrived, they regarded the situation as a parent disciplining an out-of-control teenager. Silva said the officers’ reaction was confirmation he was in the right. Luna said the police failed to recognize what was going on.
When Luna didn’t show up to school for the next several days, she said the high school social worker got concerned and called authorities. The family had to report to the city’s family crisis center, where Luna said she was interviewed. She said she never went back to live at her mother and Silva’s house. Instead, she went to live with her maternal aunt.
A family member confirmed Luna’s version of the story. A document from Denver Human Services to Denver Public Schools shows Luna went to live with her aunt. Silva doesn’t dispute that. Luna described the arrangement as “kinship care.” She said she spent the last year and a half of high school there.
Silva said he was ticketed in relation to the incident, but he declined to say for what or share the records. He said the police “automatically” believed his stepdaughter and refused to hear his side of the story, telling him “that is what court is for.”
“I’m not a perfect person,” Silva said. “I did spank her twice with a belt. So be it.”
He later added, “Selena is trying to ruin me.”
Luna said her childhood was hard. But she said it also made her more mature, and the counseling she got after leaving her mother and stepfather’s home helped her overcome cultural stigmas she held about mental health.
“It’s made me a better person at the end of the day,” she said.