A second Assembly investigation has found that Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia was “overly familiar” with a staff member at a legislative softball game in 2014, but that her drunken behavior was not “sexual.”
In a letter sent Wednesday to the Bell Gardens Democrat, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said Garcia’s behavior with Daniel Fierro had violated the Assembly’s sexual harassment policy and that “appropriate remedial action will be taken to prevent future similar conduct.” The letter did not specify what that would entail.
The investigator concluded that “while in a state of inebriation, you encountered Mr. Fierro in the dugout, grabbed his arm for support, put your hand on his back and were overly familiar with him in a way that you would not have been had you been sober,” Rendon wrote. “However, the preponderance of the evidence did not support a finding that you touched Mr. Fierro on his buttock or genitals or that this was a sexual encounter.”
Garcia said in a statement that she was “pleased that the investigation has concluded.”
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“Unfortunately, while I disagree with some of the other specific findings, I believe that enough taxpayer dollars have been spent on this investigation,” she said. “I again apologize if language I used in the past made anyone feel uncomfortable. I look forward to continuing to serve my constituents as an advocate for good government, environmental justice, and on women’s issues.”
Fierro, a political communications consultant from Cerritos, publicly accused Garcia in February of drunkenly groping him at the 2014 softball game, when he worked for Assemblyman Ian Calderon. Fierro said Garcia cornered him after the game, began stroking his back, squeezed his butt and attempted to grab his crotch before he extricated himself.
Garcia, who was initially one of the most outspoken critics of the culture at the Capitol when the #MeToo movement against workplace sexual harassment launched last fall, took a leave of absence while the Legislature investigated the complaint.
An initial investigation did not substantiate the groping allegation, though it did find that Garcia had frequently used vulgar language in the office, asked staff to perform personal errands and disparaged her colleagues. She was stripped of her committee assignments and required to attend sensitivity training.
Fierro at the time cast doubts on the investigation and appealed the decision. He said he provided witnesses to the Assembly that were never interviewed, including one that was never even contacted.
The letter sent to Garcia confirms that “individuals unreachable during the first investigation” were interviewed for the second review, which was conducted by attorney Amy Oppenheimer. Though not employed by the Legislature, her report is protected by attorney-client privilege and was not made available to either Garcia or Fierro, according to the letter.
A second allegation that Garcia retaliated against Fierro for making his complaint by interfering with his attempts to get business contracts with a school district was not substantiated by the investigation.
Fierro said Wednesday that he was “annoyed at the whole process.” He said he found it “problematic” that the investigator’s conclusion upheld his entire version of events except the groping.
“But you can’t actually substantiate the one piece that matters?” he said. “It is appalling to me, absolutely appalling, that the Assembly, through its lawyer, would take it upon itself to decide what’s sexual in nature.”
Fierro said he is now considering civil litigation against Garcia. He called the investigation a “terrible blow to victim’s rights” and questioned why Oppenheimer “didn’t take my word for truth” over Garcia, who was drunk at the time.
“It makes it clear that the Assembly is not interested in what the truth is and is not interested in finding out who their members are,” Fierro said.
Before and after returning to the Legislature in May, Garcia faced an intense campaign from construction trade unions and other opponents calling for her resignation and attempting to defeat her re-election bid. She won a fourth term earlier this month with more than 70 percent of the vote.