Capitol Alert

DA files child abuse charge against Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula

The Fresno County District Attorney’s office on Tuesday charged Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, with misdemeanor child abuse for an incident involving his 7-year-old daughter.

The complaint filed in Fresno County Superior Court stemming from a December incident alleges one count of cruelty to a child by inflicting physical pain or mental suffering.

If convicted, Arambula, 41, faces a sentence of up to six months imprisonment.

He is scheduled to be arraigned at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.

In a statement issued through attorney Margarita Martinez-Baly, Arambula said he and his wife were “shocked” at the district attorney’s decision.

“The allegation that I may have harmed one of my daughters is false and unthinkable,” Arambula said. “While politics may have influenced the decision to file, we are confident that our judicial system will find this allegation to be false.”

The statement notes that Arambula has taken a voluntary leave of absence from the Assembly.

Fresno police arrested Arambula on Dec. 10 after responding to a call from his 7-year-old daughter’s elementary school. Arambula and his wife have stressed his innocence, saying he spanked the child on her buttocks as part of normal family discipline. Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer was just as certain a crime had been committed, saying Arambula’s daughter suffered an injury that was not on her buttocks.

Arambula was cited on a misdemeanor charge of willful cruelty to a child after his arrest and released. He regained custody of his daughters two days later. He has continued to serve in the Assembly, and he was not stripped of any committee positions.

The Bee asked the office of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon whether Arambula would face discipline from the Legislature. The story will be updated with its response.

In December, Rendon announced that Arambula would keep his chairmanship of the Assembly’s budget subcommittee on health and human services, as well as his seven other committee and subcommittee posts.

The Fresno County Republican Party called for Arambula to resign after his arrest in December, and chairman Fred Vanderhoof reiterated the GOP’s position Tuesday.

“He’s been charged, and if he’s convicted, he should resign,” Vanderhoof said. “I think that would be best for his family.”

Michael Evans, chair of the county Democrats, urged the public Tuesday to let the criminal justice process play out before rushing to any judgment.

“In our justice system, you are innocent until proven guilty,” Evans said. “We will let the process play out with the various legal entities and see what happens.”

Arambula, a physician, could also face discipline from the state medical board.

Carlos Villatoro, a spokesman for the Medical Board of California, said in December his agency had learned of Arambula’s arrest and “was looking into it.”

Villatoro said the board does not comment on whether a physician is being investigated. His license was current and showed no disciplinary action as of Tuesday.

In general, investigations are triggered in a variety of ways and often take weeks or months to complete, as several agencies – including the Department of Consumer Affairs and the state attorney general’s office – are involved, Villatoro said.

Arambula first won election to the state Assembly in 2016, when he won a special election to fill the 31st District seat after Henry T. Perea resigned. Arambula won re-election in the 2016 and 2018 general elections by wide margins.

He is the son of former Assemblyman Juan Arambula, who represented the 31st District from 2004-10.

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Rory Appleton is a fourth-generation Fresnan who covers politics for his hometown newspaper. A Fresno State graduate, he has won six first-place California News Publishers Association awards and a McClatchy President’s Award for his reporting and column writing over the last two years.