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California lawmaker steps aside, denies child cruelty charge

March 12, 2019
FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2016 file photo, Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Kingsburg, speaks at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. California prosecutors are charging Arambula with misdemeanor cruelty to a child, which could bring six months in jail. Fresno County's district attorney said Tuesday, March 12, 2019, that Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula is charged with inflicting unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering on a child. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2016 file photo, Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Kingsburg, speaks at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. California prosecutors are charging Arambula with misdemeanor cruelty to a child, which could bring six months in jail. Fresno County's district attorney said Tuesday, March 12, 2019, that Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula is charged with inflicting unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering on a child. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A state lawmaker took a temporary leave of absence on Tuesday while disputing a misdemeanor charge of cruelty to his young daughter as “false and unthinkable.”

Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula acted hours after Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp announced that he is charged with inflicting unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering on a child.

“My wife and I are shocked that the District Attorney has decided to file charges. The allegation that I may have harmed one of my daughters is false and unthinkable,” the Fresno Democrat said in a statement issued through his lawyer.

“While politics may have influenced the decision to file, we are confident that our judicial system will find this allegation to be false. However, I have voluntarily taken a temporary leave of absence from the Assembly and have directed my attorney to request a speedy trial so this issue can be resolved as quickly as possible.”

The maximum sentence is six months in jail.

“Any claim that the decision to file charges is politically motivated is absolutely 100% not correct,” Assistant District Attorney Steve Wright responded. “We base our filing decisions on the law and evidence collected during the investigation.”

Neither prosecutors nor Arambula’s attorneys, Margarita Martinez-Baly and Michael Aed, provided details on the allegations.

Arambula, 41, was arrested and soon released in December after officials at Dailey Elementary Charter School learned of an injury on his 7-year-old daughter and reported it to child protective services and the police.

His three daughters, ages 3, 6 and 7, stayed with his parents for two nights but were then allowed to return home to Arambula and his wife, Elizabeth.

Arambula is a former emergency room physician who was elected in 2016 to represent parts of Fresno County. Medical Board of California spokesman Carlos Villatoro said the board is also looking into the allegations.

He is set to be arraigned Wednesday.

He said in December that he had spanked his daughter as discipline, calling it a tool he rarely uses.

But Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer disputed that it was a simple spanking on the buttocks.

“There was an injury,” Dyer said at the time. “I can’t get into the details of where (Arambula’s daughter’s) injury was, but it was not on the buttocks.”

Dyer said Arambula was arrested on suspicion of a misdemeanor, not a felony, because the injury did not require medical attention. He said spanking a child is generally legal if it’s in a fleshy area such as the buttocks but not if it’s in a place likely to cause injury like the face.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Democrat, said he supports Arambula’s decision to take a leave.

“For those of us who know and respect Assemblymember Arambula, we know this has been a difficult experience for him and his family,” he said in an emailed statement. “Due to the seriousness of the allegation and the need for due process, I respect his decision to take an unpaid leave from the Assembly while he addresses this charge.”

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