Arambula says he was only trying to discipline his daughter after recent child abuse arrest

UPDATE: Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer released further details Thursday on the accusations against Arambula. They can be found here.

An emotional Joaquin Arambula on Wednesday said he spanked his 7-year-old daughter on the buttocks after she “acted out” before the family went to bed in an attempt to discipline her.

The Democratic assemblyman’s admission came a day after the Democratic assemblyman was arrested on a misdemeanor child abuse charge from an incident Sunday night at his home.

Holding the hand of his wife, Elizabeth, Arambula said spanking is a last resort in his home and he does it maybe once per year.

“It wasn’t the best night for all of us, and as a parent, I think most of us have felt those times when we can feel a bit overwhelmed,” Arambula said. “My daughter – in the midst of (her) acting out, I disciplined her as a consequence to something she did.”

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The assemblyman said he did not notice any sort of injury to his daughter either Sunday night or Monday morning. It was his understanding that his daughter was angry when she got to school and told her teacher of the spanking, and her teacher reported it to her school.

Elizabeth Arambula said she had arrived normally on Monday to pick up the children when she learned her daughter was in an office. She was not allowed to see her.

Shortly after, her husband was arrested and accused of willful cruelty to a child. If convicted, he could face up to six months in jail and a possible probation sentence.

Both Arambula and his wife stressed Wednesday that he’s a loving parent who would never do anything to hurt his children. The couple reported that Child Protective Services had deemed them fit to bring their children – aged 3, 6 and 7 – back home.

“That’s all that happened,” Arambula said. “It was us disciplining – normal discipline to our child.”

Their daughters had been staying with Arambula’s parents until Wednesday. Neither Joaquin nor Elizabeth had seen them since Monday.

Arambula thanked his daughter’s teacher, Fresno police and Child Protective Services for “doing their jobs” and “following the process.”

“There’s a process to be played out, and this process played out, and they determined that the kids should go back home,” Arambula said. “I’m excited about that. But we have a job and a responsibility to continue to be good parents, and that’s what I want to work on and will strive to do.”

Arambula said the children would not have been released back to his custody if there was any concern about his family’s home environment.

He said Child Protective Services wanted the family to seek counseling and therapy, which Arambula “looked forward to.” The agency will check in on the children for 30 days, which Arambula said he also encouraged.

“Everyone who knows us in the community and has seen us in the community knows that I’m a loving father,” Arambula said. “I care about my daughters deeply. And I’m just going through a process and trying the best I can to be a husband and father who’s putting us back together again.”

Arambula said he has not been contacted by investigators or dealt with any of the criminal proceedings yet, as his primary goal was to regain custody of his daughters.

He expressed shock over the fact that he had been accused of a crime, saying he was a healer. Prior to his election, Arambula was an emergency medical physician, and he continues to practice medicine from time to time.

When asked if the rigors of Sacramento – time away from his family, the stress of the job – factored into this incident in any way, Arambula admitted that it may have.

“Being a parent isn’t easy for anybody,” he said. “Adding more stress and difficulty on top of it exacerbates the challenge that we have. There’s no manual to being a parent. You do the best you can every single day. And that’s what we do. We’re trying with our kids.”

“We love our kids,” Elizabeth Arambula interjected.

She explained that her husband had taken his daughters to church that Sunday morning, as he always does when he is home. He also took them to the library, gave them a bath and blow-dried their hair.

“I don’t know many fathers who are as loving and devoted to their happiness as he is,” she said.

The assemblyman said the spanking was meant to discipline and establish boundaries, but he added that perhaps his family “needed more tools” to accomplish that.

The arrest

On Tuesday, the Fresno Police Department detailed its reasoning behind Arambula’s arrest.

The accusation stemmed from a call from Dailey Elementary Charter School by a Child Protective Services employee who said there was a child at the school who had been injured, Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer said.

Arambula and his wife were called out to the school. Arambula brought an attorney with him, Dyer said, and chose not to give a statement but was cooperative with officers.

““We are working with the District Attorney’s Office with the intention of pursuing prosecution in the case regardless of who the suspect is,” Dyer said.

Arambula Mugshot
Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula was arrested Monday and charged with willful cruelty to a child, a misdemeanor. Fresno Police Department

At a previously scheduled monthly news conference on Wednesday, Dyer said the victim had a “small injury,” though he could not specify where.

Dyer explained that, in general, it is legal for a parent to spank a child in a fleshy area, such as the buttocks, but it is not permissible to strike a child in an area that could cause injury, such as near the eye.

He also explained the difference between the misdemeanor child abuse charge and a felony. In general, the misdemeanor charge is for an injury that does not require medical attention. The felony charge would be used if the suspect broke the victim’s bone or caused more serious harm.

Dyer said that Arambula has represented the central San Joaquin Valley well and that he considers the assemblyman a personal friend, but he stressed that his detectives will investigate the crime with impartiality. He reiterated that his department intends to see the case prosecuted.

Assistant District Attorney Steve Wright said Arambula’s court date on the misdemeanor charge has been set for March 13. Misdemeanor citations usually have a court date about 90 days after the date the suspect was cited.

However, the District Attorney’s office has not had a case referred to them, Wright said, as Fresno police are still conducting an investigation. This means the assemblyman has not officially been charged with a crime as of Wednesday afternoon.

“A court date does not necessarily mean that charges have formally been filed,” Wright said.

Arambula’s future

Miguel Arias, an incoming Fresno City councilman and friend of Arambula, said he was confident Arambula would be cleared of any wrongdoing.

“My kids and his kids have grown up together,” Arias said. “My family knows him for what he is: a caring and loving family man. I trust the process will show him for what he is.”

Shortly after news of Arambula’s arrest broke, the Fresno County Republican Party called on Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon to ask for Arambula’s resignation.

Speaking Wednesday, Arambula said he had no plans to resign, adding that he had received calls of support from several of his fellow legislators.

“I was sworn into office and will serve my term to represent our community,” Arambula said. “And I am honored to do so.”

He noted what he called “the hypocrisy” of the Republicans asking him to resign after this incident, given what he called “the issues of our federal administration.”

The Fresno County Democratic Party released a statement Wednesday supporting Arambula, saying he had been “an advocate for Fresno, a good parent, a conscientious emergency medical doctor and a strong Democratic representative.” The democrats called for due process of law before any sweeping judgments were made.

Rendon’s office did not respond to requests for comment about what the Legislature will do in light of the charge against Arambula.

In the past, some lawmakers have been suspended or forced to resign over allegations of wrongdoing.

Former Sens. Ron Calderon of Montebello and Leland Yee of San Francisco were suspended from the Legislature in 2014 after they were indicted in separate federal corruption cases. The chamber also suspended former Sen. Rod Wright that year after he was convicted of felony perjury and voting fraud. Wright ultimately resigned. Yee and Calderon termed out later that year.

All three continued to be paid during their suspensions. In response, California voters in 2016 passed Proposition 50 to let lawmakers suspend their colleagues without pay. The Legislature has yet to use that new ability.

Last year, Assemblymen Matt Dababneh and Raul Bocanegra resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations. Sen. Tony Mendoza, who also faced sexual misconduct accusations, was forced to resign earlier this year.

The Assembly’s Committee on Rules, which conducts investigations and determines violations of legislative guidelines, did not respond to requests for comment on basic procedures and whether Arambula would be investigated.

It’s unclear if Arambula will face any discipline from the state medical board due to his arrest.

According to state records, his medical license was current and has no record of any disciplinary action as of Wednesday.

Carlos Villatoro, a spokesman for the Medical Board of California, said 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.

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.

Joaquin Arambula said Wednesday his family would continue to appear in public as he worked to restore any community trust he may have lost.

“I’m going to continue to be out there with my family and kids,” Arambula said. “And trust that the people of my community will see and be able to judge themselves who I am.”

Sacramento Bee reporter Sophia Bollag contributed to this story.