One Woman’s Quest To Bring The ‘Karen’ Who Falsely Accused Her Of Attempted Kidnapping To Justice

In mid-December 2020, Sadie Martinez was sitting in her bedroom when her teenage daughter walked in and showed her a photo on her phone.

It was a grainy screenshot taken from surveillance video at the Michaels craft store in Petaluma, California. It showed a man and a woman standing at a cash register. The woman’s hair is up in a bun, and the man is wearing a hoodie with a design on the back that’s kind of hard to make out.

According to the Petaluma Police Department, which had sent the photo out, the couple in the photo were “persons of interest.” A week earlier, a young mother had filed a police report, saying that this couple had tried to kidnap her children from the Michaels parking lot. Now, the police were trying to track them down.

Sadie and Eddie Martinez, a Latino couple, were falsely accused of attempted kidnapping by a white mom-fluencer in Petaluma. LAist Correspondent Emily Guerin tells us about Sadie’s quest to hold her accuser accountable, amid the “Karen phenomenon” when multiple white women were caught in viral videos falsely accusing people of color of crimes.

Sadie’s daughter’s friends had seen the photo, and were telling her that the couple looked like her parents. So she showed it to her mom.

Sadie told me multiple times that she and her husband, Eddie Martinez, are just “everyday people.” They met young while growing up in San Francisco’s Mission District, and moved north to Petaluma to give their kids a better life. Petaluma, a small town surrounded by farmland, is almost 70% white, and the Martinezes feel like they stand out there. Still before all this, they felt lucky. Eddie had a career driving for UPS and Sadie was a full-time mom of five who did bookkeeping and made balloon displays for parties and graduations.

As Sadie looked at the photo, she recalled suddenly that she and Eddie had been shopping at Michaels on the day the photo was taken, Dec. 7, 2020. But they had certainly not tried to kidnap anyone’s children. The couple in the photo couldn’t be them.

 A grainy photo of a man and a woman -- Sadie and Eddie Martinez -- standing at a cash register at Michael's in Petaluma, California on December 7, 2020. This photo was sent out by the Petaluma Police Department on December 14, 2020, as part of an effort to identify the couple.

A photo of Sadie and Eddie Martinez at the cash register at Michaels in Petaluma, California on Dec. 7, 2020 taken from surveillance video. This photo was sent out by the Petaluma Police Department on Dec. 14, 2020, as part of an effort to identify the couple.

(Courtesy Petaluma Police Department)

But she was curious. So she logged onto Facebook, where it felt like every mother she knew in Petaluma was sharing that surveillance photo — and an Instagram video made by the woman who had filed the police report.

In the video, which is more than 20 minutes long and filmed selfie-style, a 28-year-old white woman named Katie Sorensen described how a man and a woman had followed her and her two young children around the store six days earlier as she shopped for spray paint.

“I definitely felt the heebie-jeebies,” Katie says in the video. “I didn’t feel good, but I thought I was judging a book by its cover.”

Katie, who has shoulder length blond hair, blue eyes, and is wearing a gray beanie, a black leather jacket, and tiny gold pendant, describes the couple as “not kind,” and then pauses before qualifying, “that sounds bad. But they weren’t, um, they weren’t clean-cut individuals.”

Katie had posted the video to her Instagram account, @motherhoodessentials. At the time, she had around 3,000 followers, and ran a small online business selling supplements, cosmetics and dispensing advice on “mindful mothering.”

Her video spread quickly, and not just among moms in Petaluma. According to the local newspaper, The Press Democrat, her video got more than 4 million views. Pretty soon, worried parents began calling the Petaluma Police Department, concerned that kidnappers were on the loose.

Kinyatta Reynolds was one of the Petaluma moms who saw Katie’s video, and the surveillance photo sent out by the police. She and Sadie Martinez are good friends.

“And I’m looking at this picture, and I’m like, I know those people,” Reynolds said. She zoomed in on the man’s sweatshirt, and realized the blurry design read “Black Lives Matter.” It was a hoodie she had designed herself.

When Reynolds texted Sadie about it, Sadie confirmed: Eddie had been wearing that hoodie when they went to Michaels. It really was them in the photo.

A screenshot of Facebook messages between Sadie Martinez and Kinyatta Reynolds in December 2020.

A screenshot of Facebook messages between Sadie Martinez and Kinyatta Reynolds in December 2020, in which Kinyatta identifies Sadie and Eddie as the people in a surveillance photo sent out by the Petaluma Police Department.

(Courtesy Kinyatta Reynolds)

This is when things finally got real for Eddie, and he sat down to watch Katie’s video for the first time.

“Every 30 seconds or so, I’m, I’m wanting to yell and, and scream and be like, you know, what the eff are you talking about, lady?” he recalled. “I couldn’t believe what was coming outta someone’s mouth.”

The entire thing was starting to feel dystopian. How could a woman they had no memory of encountering be accusing them of trying to kidnap her children?

Sadie felt, immediately, that this woman, Katie Sorensen, was a “Karen” — a white woman who called the police on Black people and other people of color because she felt uncomfortable. She decided, in those first few days, that she would not go quietly. She would fight to hold Sorensen, and all the other women like her, accountable.

It was a quest that would take her onto TikTok and national TV, into the halls of local government, and finally, in front of a jury in a California courtroom. Can the same criminal justice system that so-called Karens take advantage of be used to hold them accountable?

“If she would’ve picked a different couple that were immigrants and didn’t have the ability to fight back and speak up, she might’ve gotten away with this, but unfortunately she picked us,” Sadie said. “We were the wrong people — because I’m not letting it go.”

 A screenshot of the Facebook message Sadie Martinez received from Petaluma police officer Brendan McGovern in December 2020.

A screenshot of the Facebook message Sadie Martinez received from Petaluma police officer Brendan McGovern in December 2020.

(Courtesy Kinyatta Reynolds)

The accusation that started it all

Not long after Sadie first saw the surveillance photo, she got a Facebook message from a Petaluma police officer named Brendan McGovern inviting the Martinezes to talk. Someone had identified them as the couple in the photo.

By the time this conversation took place, the Petaluma Police Department had already spoken to Katie Sorensen three times about her attempted kidnapping accusation. (The police declined multiple requests for interviews from LAist, but released official transcripts and audio of Sorensen’s conversations with them, as well as other documents.)

On the morning of Dec. 7, 2020, not long after leaving the Michaels in Petaluma, Katie called the police from her car, and told the dispatcher that a couple tried to kidnap her children.

“We pulled into Michaels, were getting out of the car, and a couple was parked in front of us,” she explained. “They followed us into the store.”

She explains that the couple stood behind them in the checkout line, and she overheard them, “making comments about my children’s hair color and eyes.” She didn’t think the couple actually bought anything, but instead put their items down and followed her out of the store after she finished checking out.

Katie walked to her car and was buckling her 1-year old daughter into her car seat while her 4-year old son sat in the stroller. She saw the couple approach.

“They started walking in circles around my son’s stroller, which was right next to me,” she told the dispatcher. “There’s no reason why they should have been next to me. And so I was too scared to say something to them. So I called to someone that was standing behind them and said, ‘Excuse me, ma’am, help me.’ And she came over and they ran away.”

Katie described the man as “maybe Hispanic.” She said he had a black hoodie that said Black Lives Matter, and a neck gaiter pulled up over his face. Katie said the woman had unnatural looking red hair that looked like it was dyed from a box, and was white. (Sadie is mixed race and has lighter skin.)

She said there may have been a third person involved: the driver of a white van that was in the parking lot. She described him as being a white male with sandy blond hair and glasses.

The dispatcher told Katie to come down to the police station to speak with an officer. This time, she added a new detail about the couple’s appearance.

“They’re just kind of rough looking,” she said.

Officer McGovern seemed stumped by the entire interaction. He told Katie it sounded like suspicious behavior, but didn’t meet the criteria of attempted kidnapping. Katie told him she didn’t want to press charges, she just wanted to “make people aware so it doesn’t happen to someone else.”

The police searched Michaels and the parking lot. They couldn’t find anyone involved or enough evidence to say that a crime had occurred, so they dropped the matter.

This could’ve been the end of the story. But almost a week later, on the afternoon of Dec. 13, 2020, Katie uploaded her 20-minute video to Instagram.

Petaluma’s history with child abduction

Part of why the story went viral, at least locally, is that Petaluma is the home to one of the most notorious abductions of a child. In 1993, a 12-year-old girl named Polly Klaas was kidnapped by a man she didn’t know from her home during a sleepover party. Her story led national newscasts for months. The case was featured on America’s Most Wanted, made the cover of People magazine, and Winona Ryder pledged a reward of $200,000 to help find her kidnapper.

Her body was found two months later in a field near the 101 freeway, about 50 miles north of Petaluma.

Polly’s murder happened during an era of panic about rising crime rates in America — think D.A.R.E., McGruff the Crime Dog, and kids getting fingerprinted at school. The man who murdered her had a long criminal record. He was out on parole when he kidnapped her, and outrage over that led to California passing its Three Strikes law.

Even Sadie Martinez acknowledged that this is part of why local parents took Katie Sorensen’s accusation so seriously:

“You don’t cry kidnapping in Petaluma without it circulating quick,” she told me.

A new detail reignites the case

One of the people who saw Katie’s video was Officer McGovern, who had interviewed Katie the week earlier. He noticed a new detail that Katie hadn’t mentioned when they first spoke: she now said the man had reached for her stroller.

This might sound small, but it was a key element that would constitute attempted kidnapping.

McGovern and a detective named Corie Joerger drove to Katie’s house to question her about the inconsistencies in her story. They sat on a picnic table on her back porch as Katie rocked and bounced her son, who is autistic. I reviewed the body cam video of this interview.

Throughout that conversation, which I listened to and watched, it seemed like Katie waffled between being doubtful and doubling down on her previous statements.

First, Joerger told Katie that surveillance video from Michaels contradicted her story. The couple was actually inside the store before her. They didn’t follow her in.

Katie struggled to explain the discrepancies. “When you’re in a situation like that and you’re on high alert, you think you’re hearing things, you think you know what’s happening,” she said. “So I’m not like trying to stick to my story or whatever.”

But when Joerger placed the grainy surveillance photo of Sadie and Eddie at the cash register on the table, Sorensen looked at it and said, “I’m a hundred percent sure that’s them.”

She also insisted that this couple had tried to grab her stroller.

“That part, without a shadow of a doubt, that is what was happening,” she said. “I will testify that is what happened.”

But as the conversation continued, Katie seemed less certain about aspects of her story. She acknowledged that she may have misinterpreted the couple following her in. And the white van that she initially told the dispatcher about, maybe it had nothing to do with the couple after all.

“I do think it’s important for moms, parents, to be aware, but it makes me a little uneasy that you guys are getting blown up about this,” she told the officers. “I guess I’m feeling doubt that I misremembered the story, and I don’t want to misrepresent what happened and make it a bigger…I don’t know.”

Towards the end of the conversation, Joerger asked Sorensen if she was willing to go forward with a prosecution, and she nodded.

Later that day, December 14, the police sent out their news release. Sadie’s daughter walked into her mom’s bedroom to show her a photo on her phone. And not long after that, Sadie got a Facebook message from the Petaluma police.

Sadie and Eddie Martinez talk to the police

Soon, Sadie, Eddie and their lawyer found themselves in a Zoom room with Petulama police Lieutenant Ed Crosby.

Close up of a sigh that reads City of Petaluma Police. A building with a badge included above its entrance is in the background

(City of Petaluma)

They said they had gone to Michaels on December 7 because they needed to buy a baby Jesus for their nativity scene. Eddie had the day off from his job at UPS for his birthday, so they went to the store together. He wandered around while Sadie picked out the figurine. They stood in line, paid, and walked out to the car. Eddie wanted to go to a Chinese restaurant across the parking lot, so they started walking in that direction. Sadie glanced at her phone and realized it was only 10:30 — the Chinese place was closed. So they turned around, walked back to the car, and left.

They told Crosby they did not remember seeing Katie Sorensen, and they definitely did not try to grab her stroller.

After interviewing the Martinezes, Crosby called Katie. He wanted to know why she hadn’t immediately reported that the couple tried to grab her stroller.

Katie had no real explanation.

“Honestly, I’m not a psychologist. I don’t know how the mind works,” she said.

Katie told Crosby she didn’t want to press charges against the Martinezes. But when Crosby gave Katie an opportunity to amend or retract her account of what happened at Michaels, she declined.

She said what happened “felt real, and that is why I shared it.”

“I can appreciate your feelings,” Crosby said. “But we’re trying to get to matters of fact.”

Later that day, the police announced they were closing their investigation into the attempted kidnapping, and opening a new one — into whether Katie Sorensen had falsely reported a crime.


That Friday, on Dec. 17, 2020, Sadie Martinez held a press conference in the Michaels parking lot. She wanted to formally clear their names.

A crowd of about 40 people had gathered on the asphalt, blocking several parking spots. There were moms in trucker hats, dads in vests, and little kids in bike helmets. Almost everyone was wearing a mask.

Sadie Martinez speaks at a microphone during a press conference held outside the Michaels store to confirm her and her husband, Eddie's innocence in a suspicious activity case brought on by Instagram influencer, Katie Sorensen. Sorensen accused the Martinezes of an attempted kidnapping of Sorensen's children in the Michaels parking lot.  Police found no evidence of a crime and the Martinezes believe it to be a case of racial profiling. Kinyatta Reynolds (right), a longtime friend of the Martinezes, stood by in support.

Sadie Martinez spoke out in a press conference held outside the Michaels store to confirm her and her husband, Eddie’s innocence in a suspicious activity case brought on by Instagram influencer, Katie Sorensen. Kinyatta Reynolds (right), a longtime friend of the Martinezes, stood by in support.

(Crissy Pascual



Sadie stood at a microphone. She was wearing the same Black Lives Matter hoodie that Eddie had worn to Michaels that day, and her long wavy hair fell over her shoulders. It was clear and cool: winter in Northern California.

“[To] the Katies of the world, it stops here,” she said, and people clapped. “I think Sorensen thought that she could just pick on somebody, or make up a story about people because she didn’t like what they look like. Am I shocked? No, but will we stand for it? Hell no. So today I stand in front of everybody in a fight to prosecute Katie. That’s why I’m here.”

She stood there for a minute, chin up, unsmiling as people clapped and cheered and reporters began to holler out questions.

After this press conference, Sadie focused her energy on making sure Katie would face criminal charges.

The words #ProsecuteKatie are written in wet sand near the shoreline

Sadie Martinez wrote “#ProsecuteKatie” in the sand on the beach in Santa Barbara.

(Courtesy Sadie Martinez)

She turned her rallying cry into her own hashtag, #ProsecuteKatie, and began writing it everywhere: in chalk on the sidewalk, in the sand on the beach, on receipts as she signed to pay at restaurants. She had sweatshirts printed. She did a banner drop over a road in Petaluma. She talked to reporters with Elle and Good Morning America and BuzzFeed News.

Is Katie a Karen?

But privately, Sadie was feeling uneasy. She was more conscious of how she dressed now, and didn’t leave home without her makeup and hair done. She couldn’t help but notice whenever she was the only Latina in a public space.

“We’re forever labeled child abductors and on social media, that never ends,” she said. “It’s a lot.”

She was part of a club she never wanted to be in: people of color falsely accused of crimes by white women. And on the Internet, increasingly other people saw her this way too.

In TikToks and Instagram stories and YouTube reaction videos, people were grouping what had happened to Sadie with all the other “Karen” incidents that were going viral in 2020: the white woman who called the police on a Black birder in New York’s Central Park, the white woman who called the police on a Filipino man who was painting Black Lives Matter on his own property in San Francisco, the white woman who called the police on Black people barbecuing in Oakland.

People online were also making a big deal of the fact that Katie had been a mom-influencer. The theory was that Katie was trying to boost her social media following by making an emotional video positioning herself as a victim. And indeed, Katie’s following increased from 3,000 to more than 80,000 within a day of posting her video, according to BuzzFeed News.

A head and shoulders portrait of a man with medium tone skin in a red jersey

Eddie Martinez stands for a portrait at Upper Noe Recreation Center in San Francisco on Oct. 8, 2023.

(Pablo Unzueta for LAist)

This was Sadie’s theory, too. She told me that Katie probably cast a Latino couple as the villains in her story because she thought she’d get away with it. “I do think she probably thought we were some immigrants and, you know, just stereotyping us Latin people,” she said.

Child kidnapping conspiracies

But not everyone sees Katie as a Karen, or as an influencer gone wrong. I talked to a number of people who watched the video Katie made, and saw something completely different.

Jessica met Katie Sorensen through a local mother’s group in Sonoma, where Katie used to live and where Jessica still lives. Jessica didn’t want to use her last name, for fear of being harassed or retaliated against for speaking out in support of Katie.

Jessica found Katie to be a kind and caring person who organized a donation drive for people displaced by wildfires. She knew Katie as a stay-at-home mom with three kids who belonged to the Church of Latter Day Saints in Sonoma. Katie was a pretty private person, at least in real life, and Jessica doesn’t buy the “Katie did it for the clicks” theory.

I think she bought too much into the fear-mongering and the stranger danger.

— Jessica, on Katie Sorenson

Instead, she thinks Katie must have legitimately felt scared while shopping at Michaels, and made her Instagram video because she really wanted to help other people learn from her experience.

“We were in a lot of the same social media parenting groups, and at the time I was seeing a lot of posts about attempted kidnapping and sex trafficking.” she said. “I think she bought too much into the fear-mongering and the stranger danger.”

Late 2020 was a very weird time to be on the internet. Trump had lost the election, but hadn’t conceded. It was the deadliest period of the COVID pandemic to date, and we were all social distancing. Vaccines were about to roll out but no one had them yet. Everyone was online all the time, and conspiracy theories were rampant.

One of these conspiracies was called #SaveTheChildren. Save The Children, sans hashtag, is the name of a 100-year-old nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of children around the world. But in the summer of 2020, the hashtag #SaveTheChildren was coopted by people who follow the conspiracy theorist known as QAnon. It has nothing to do with the organization.

QAnon is an online movement that emerged during the Trump presidency, and is based on centuries of antisemitic conspiracies. Its followers appear to sincerely believe that a secretive group of pedophilic, Satan-worshiping elites control our government and media. And exposing alleged child sex trafficking is a big part of QAnon.

There are real white supremacist overtones to QAnon, and to #SaveTheChildren in particular.

A typical #SaveTheChildren post features a dark-skinned hand on the shoulder or over the mouth of a white child.

“It sets up a very specific kind of image,” said Cody Buntain, a University of Maryland professor who studies online disinformation. “Young white children, especially young white girls, are at risk of being assaulted or trafficked by some other racial other.”

This imagery plays on anxieties that are deeply rooted in American history: white women being victimized by Black men. This anxiety has led to some truly horrendous things: from the murder of Emmett Till to the conviction of the Central Park Five. But the reality is that white children are not disproportionately the victims of human trafficking in America. Black and Native American children are, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Yet almost none of the #SaveTheChildren posts feature children of color, Buntain said.

I think people were brainwashed honestly. I think that moms were going to Michaels or Target, and they were legitimately afraid that their children were gonna be kidnapped at any moment.

— Stephanie McNeal, who wrote about Katie’s accusation for Buzzfeed News

In the summer of 2020, QAnon followers began using #SaveTheChildren to spread their message on social media. It showed up in the form of influencers making videos about the supposed epidemic of child kidnapping, people on Twitter sharing memes, and worried moms posting in private Facebook groups.

“There was a lot of misinformation on social media at the time that had led a lot of women to start to believe that child sex trafficking was a way bigger issue than statistically we know it is,” said Stephanie McNeal, a BuzzFeed News reporter who wrote about Katie’s accusation. “I think people were brainwashed honestly. I think that moms were going to Michaels or Target, and they were legitimately afraid that their children were gonna be kidnapped at any moment.”

According to court documents, the Petaluma Police Department found Katie to be “in significant engagement with QAnon conspiracy theories which tend to center around kidnappers and pedophiles.” I later saw an Instagram post she made holding a hand-drawn sign that reads, “Let’s be the generation that ends child trafficking.” The photo caption is “slavery still exists” and ends with the hashtag #savethechildren.

Criminal charges

In April 2021, there was a huge development in the #ProsecuteKatie campaign.

The Sonoma County District Attorney charged Katie with three counts of false reporting of a crime. False reporting is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail — which means up to 18 months total if convicted on all three counts.

The ethics of social media manipulation, the real-world consequences of public shaming, and most importantly, the societal impact of false accusations attacking people of color in our community loom large here.

— Superior Court Judge Laura Passaglia

Criminal defense lawyers in California told us that being charged for false reporting is rare. It’s even rarer for a case to actually make it to trial. But on two separate occasions, the judge in this case denied Katie’s lawyer’s request to have her case dismissed in exchange for diversity sensitivity and social media ethics training, among other concessions.

The judge, Laura Passaglia, wrote in her ruling that if Katie’s case didn’t go to trial, people might believe the justice system is not fair.

“The ethics of social media manipulation, the real-world consequences of public shaming, and most importantly, the societal impact of false accusations attacking people of color in our community loom large here,” she wrote.

The trial began on April 18, 2023 in the Sonoma County Superior Court in Santa Rosa, which is about 20 miles north of Petaluma. It’s a big beige cube on a street called Administration Drive, which is like an industrial park for government buildings. The courthouse was busy, and a line had formed outside to walk through the metal detector. It was sunny and warm, and the trees were flowering and sprouting new leaves.

The courtroom was small with low ceilings, fluorescent lights, and a huge seal of the state of California on the wall. I recognized Katie’s husband, mother, and six other family members. Sadie’s friend Kinyatta Reynolds sat as far from Katie’s family as possible. Sadie and Eddie Martinez were not there — as witnesses for the prosecution, they were not allowed to be in the courtroom except when testifying. Katie was sitting next to her lawyer at a desk, wearing all beige.

Katie hadn’t spoken in public since the week she posted her Instagram video, over two years earlier. She and her family had since moved to Montana. Her mother, Jill Turgeon-Turrill, later told me that they had been getting death threats, and no longer felt safe in Sonoma. (I should note there is a long history of white Californians moving to the northern Rockies when they feel uncomfortable and or unsafe in California.) Katie Sorenson declined my repeated requests for an interview.

Katie had been charged with three counts of false reporting, one for each of her interactions with police. This trial was to determine whether she had knowingly lied in each of those conversations: two on December 7, the day of her trip to Michaels, and one on December 14, the day after publishing her Instagram video. The trial was notably not about what she said in that video, which is considered free speech and therefore not illegal.

The trial begins

The trial began with the prosecutor, Robert Waner’s, opening statement. He faced the jury and told them that nothing that Katie said happened actually happened. There was no attempted kidnapping. Katie, he said, was an aspiring influencer who fabricated a sensational story to go viral, so she could gain followers and sell them things. In Katie’s report to the police, she focused heavily on Eddie Martinez’s appearance, and Waner told jurors that her fake story had a devastating effect on Eddie and his wife, Sadie. Find Katie guilty, he said.

A white woman in a taupe jacket leans over as a man in a dark blue suit speak into her ear. they're at a table in a court.

Defendant Katie Sorensen, left, listens to her defense attorney Charles Dresow during the first day of her trial in Sonoma County Superior Court in Santa Rosa on Tuesday, April 18, 2023.

(Christopher Chung


The Press Democrat)

Then it was defense attorney Charles Dresow’s turn. He reminded the jury that this incident occurred in late 2020, peak COVID. Katie, he said, was extremely anxious at Michaels that day, an emotional state that caused her to misinterpret Sadie and Eddie’s behavior as threatening. He said Katie did not knowingly file a false police report: she really believed she was in danger, although she now realizes she was wrong. Find Katie not guilty, he urged.

It seemed that both the prosecution and the defense agreed that no attempted kidnapping had ever happened. Sadie and Eddie were completely innocent. Now the question was: Had Katie lied? And could the prosecutor convince the entire jury of that, beyond a reasonable doubt?

Over the course of the next four days, the prosecutor presented his evidence. He called his witnesses, Sadie and Eddie Martinez, who told the jury that the shopping trip had been completely ordinary. He played surveillance video from Michaels, which contradicted key elements of Katie’s story, like showing that the Martinezes had not followed her inside.

The most dramatic moment of the trial was when Eddie demonstrated a big, sweeping hand gesture he’d made out of disappointment in the Michaels parking lot when he discovered the Chinese restaurant was closed. It just so happened that he was standing behind Katie’s car when he made the gesture.

This gesture, Katie’s attorney argued, was what she had honestly misinterpreted as Eddie reaching for her stroller. She found Eddie’s hand movement threatening, so she called the police.

It was clear to me that this case was about how a white woman had interpreted the body language of a Latino man. But now I was realizing that it could hinge on a single hand motion.

The last piece of evidence the prosecution presented was a slideshow of Katie’s social media profile. The goal, it seemed, was to flesh out her alleged motive: the “Katie is an influencer who made up a wild story to gain followers” theory.

The prosecutor clicked through the slides. There were pictures of the essential oils and cosmetics and supplements Katie sold through her business, Motherhood Essentials. There were pictures of Katie blowing flower petals at the camera. There were comments she’d made on other people’s posts, saying things like, “I’m looking to focus more on consulting, influencing — eek — for clean living.”

I watched Katie watch herself on screen — this humiliating, incomplete portrait of her. She had been expressionless the whole time. But now, she took off her glasses, and started to cry.

After this, the prosecutor was done presenting evidence. The judge turned to Sorensen’s lawyer, who announced that he had just one witness: Katie Sorensen.

Katie Sorenson testifies

Katie Sorenson’s testimony was by far the most riveting part of the trial. When she took the stand, she had her hair down, and her tortoiseshell glasses on. She looked over at the jury, smiled, and introduced herself as a mother.

Over the course of the next half hour or so, she reiterated three main points:

One: she truly believed her kids had been in danger that day at Michaels. Two: her feelings of fear had nothing to do with Sadie and Eddie’s race or ethnicity. And three: she’s since realized she was wrong about what happened.

She told the jury that she no longer believed anyone tried to kidnap her children. Instead, what occurred that day was “an odd series of coincidental events that I misinterpreted.”

In the cross examination, the prosecutor asked Katie directly why she described Eddie as “rough-looking.” I had been waiting for this moment — he’d barely mentioned race at all.

Katie replied, “the manner in which he carried himself throughout the store.”

In other words, it was Eddie’s demeanor, not his appearance, that had been “rough-looking.”

A white woman in tortoiseshell glasses looks across a room. A white man next to her is out of focus.

Katie Sorensen and her attorney Charles Dresow, listen as her sentence is read by judge Laura Passaglia during her sentencing at Sonoma County Superior Court in Santa Rosa, Thursday, June 29, 2023.

(Kent Porter


The Press Democrat)

On the final day of the trial, prosecutor Robert Waner stood directly in front of the jury, and gave his closing arguments. He told the jury that Katie Sorensen was guilty. He said it was impossible that she misinterpreted the events, she had been lying. He said that Katie was an influencer who was trying to boost her online presence by fabricating a wild story. And he said she doubled down when confronted by the police on December 14, the day after she posted her video.

Katie’s attorney, Charles Dresow, argued that it had been reasonable for her to believe her kids were in danger. He dwelled in particular on Eddie’s big sweeping hand gesture. He said Sorensen, in her heightened state of COVID anxiety, certainly could have misinterpreted this gesture as Eddie trying to grab her stroller.

The verdict

The jury reached their verdict the following afternoon. I saw Katie’s family in the hallway, heads bowed, praying, before we all re-entered the courtroom to hear the decision.

The jury of found Katie not guilty of the first two counts — which were her two initial interactions with police on December 7, the day she left Michaels.

They found her guilty of the third count — her conversation with police on December 14, the day after her video went live.

Katie’s family seemed stunned. No one did or said anything. Katie was totally expressionless. The bailiff walked over and she stood while he put black metal handcuffs on her.

The judge set Katie’s bail at $100,000, which I later learned was pretty high for a non-violent misdemeanor. She was escorted down to the Sonoma County Jail, where she sat for a few hours until her family could get a bail bond.

The judge thanked the jurors for their service and dismissed everyone.

In the hallway, Katie’s mom, Jill Turgeon-Turrill, and her husband, Eric, walked straight over to me and a reporter named Colin Atagi, who works for the local newspaper, the Press Democrat.

Turgeon-Turrill had tears in her eyes, and she seemed furious the jury hadn’t interpreted the evidence the way she had. She told us about the financial and emotional toll the case had taken. She’d spent her late husband’s life insurance on legal fees, and said Katie had received death threats.

Katie, she said, had no animosity towards the Martinezes. In fact, Turgeon-Turrill added, “they have been just as much a victim in this as she has.”

The sentence

Two months later, Katie was sentenced to 30 days in jail. Because of California’s sentencing rules on non-violent misdemeanors, she served half that. Her jail time was followed by 60 days of work release, after which she’d be on probation for the next nine months. During that time she couldn’t use social media, and she had to take racial bias and social media ethics training.

A woman with light-tone skin and dark hair wears a red jersey with 19 on the front

Sadie Martinez stands for a portrait at Upper Noe Recreation Center in San Francisco on Oct. 8, 2023.

(Pablo Unzueta for LAist )

Sadie Martinez was pleased. “Obviously I would’ve preferred her to have been found guilty on all three counts,” she told me, “but as long as she’s held accountable in some fashion, that was all I really cared about.” She felt jail time was necessary given that, in her mind, Sorensen had never apologized meaningfully or showed remorse.

But Eddie was feeling more ambivalent. He was relieved that justice had been served, and felt like the judge had chosen to make an example of Katie by giving her jail time. But he felt bad for her children.

“They didn’t ask for this,” he said. “To go 30 days wondering, ‘Where’s mom?’ I don’t wish that upon anybody.”

I wondered if Sadie and Eddie were disappointed that the prosecutor didn’t bring up race more in the trial. I knew that Sadie really wanted Katie to be held accountable for what she felt was an obvious case of racial profiling, and that hadn’t really happened.

The Sonoma County district attorney, Carla Rodriguez, had told me they chose not to delve into race during the trial because Katie’s language wasn’t “racially-based.” She used words like “not clean cut,” and “rough-looking.” Besides, Rodriguez told me, they didn’t need to get into race to prove she had lied to the police.

A man with medium-ton skin stands to the right of a woman with lighter-tone skin. Both have on red football jerseys.

Sadie Martinez and Eddie Martinez stand for a portrait at Upper Noe Recreation Center in San Francisco on Oct. 8, 2023. According to the couple, Sadie and Eddie first met at the Upper Noe Recreation Center, where they both grew up around the neighborhood.

(Pablo Unzueta for LAist)

Sadie had initially been bothered by this, but she now understood that it would have been very difficult for the prosecutor to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Katie was racist. Besides, “there’s no need to convince anybody that anything is racial when you live it,” she said. “I know it’s about race and that’s enough for me.”

Now that Katie Sorenson has been sentenced, Sadie’s #ProsecuteKatie campaign has run its course. Now Sadie wants to do more.

In early 2021, after Katie’s Instagram video came out, Sadie was asked to join a police reform commission in Petaluma. She proposed a law that would make it a crime to make a racially motivated 911 call. Laws like this already exist in a handful of other cities, including San Francisco. Their law is called the “Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies,” — a.k.a. the CAREN Act.

Sadie’s initial proposal didn’t go anywhere — but she’s planning to try again. The next step is gathering signatures for a petition in support of a local version of the CAREN ACT — which she’s calling the Sadie Stance.

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