Capitol Alert

Accused California assemblywoman steps down during sexual harassment probe

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia announced Friday that she is taking a voluntary unpaid leave as lawyers hired by the Legislature investigate allegations that she groped a former Capitol employee.

Garcia, D-Bell Gardens and the chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, said she is “certain I did not engage in the behavior I am accused of.”

“However, as I’ve said before, any claims about sexual harassment must be taken seriously, and I believe elected officials should be held to a higher standard of accountability,” Garcia said in a statement. “I implore the Assembly Rules Committee to conduct a thorough and expeditious investigation, and I look forward to getting back to work on behalf of my constituents and for the betterment of California.”

Garcia is an outspoken leader of the “Me Too” movement in California. She has called for male lawmakers accused of sexual harassment, assault and misconduct to step down over the last several months and refused to work with them. She was one of 147 women who signed a letter drawing attention to problems under the Capitol dome in October.

She co-authored a bill to provide whistleblower protections for legislative employees and her photo appeared in Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” issue in December highlighting women who have spoken up about sexual harassment. Garcia and other women lawmakers wore all black on the Senate and Assembly floors to extend the protest at the Golden Globes ceremony.

Daniel Fierro, who now operates a political communications firm in Cerritos, said Thursday that Garcia cornered him at a legislative softball game in 2014, began stroking his back, squeezed his butt and attempted to grab his crotch before he extricated himself.

Politico reported a second incident involving an unnamed Sacramento lobbyist, who said Garcia cornered him at a fundraiser in May 2017, made a graphic sexual proposal and tried to grab his crotch. The lobbyist said he never made a complaint about the behavior out of concern for his clients. The men said Garcia appeared intoxicated in both incidents.

Garcia focused on legislation involving women’s issues long before sexual harassment allegations rocked the Capitol. She authored a bill to provide a tax exemption for tampons, which Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed. She unsuccessfully pushed a bill last year that would make it a form of rape to intentionally remove or tamper with a condom during sex without consent from the other partner, also known as “stealthing.” She passed a law in 2016 to expand the definition of rape to include penetration with a body part or foreign object without consent in response to the Brock Turner case at Stanford University.

Garcia’s flat denial of the allegations signaled a change from her initial response on Thursday. She previously confirmed that she attended the 2014 softball game and said the details of the complaint had never been brought to her attention. At the time, she said she had “zero recollection of engaging in inappropriate behavior and such behavior is inconsistent with my values.”

Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna

Related stories from Sacramento Bee