The news alert that flashed on smartphones was shocking: Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, the Democrat from Fresno, had been arrested on suspicion of willful cruelty to a child.
As The Bee reported, Arambula was allegedly involved in injuring a child about 8:30 p.m. Sunday. Police were called by a Fresno County Child Protective Services staffer Monday afternoon. That CPS representative said the child was at Dailey Elementary Charter School.
The evidence led police to arrest Arambula on a misdemeanor, Police Chief Jerry Dyer said. He added that police will work with the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office to determine if Arambula will be prosecuted.
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Dyer carefully did not provide details of who the child was. But Arambula told The Bee Wednesday afternoon he had spanked his eldest daughter in a moment of discipline when she acted out as he tried to put her to bed.
Arambula and his wife, Elizabeth, have three daughters, ages 7, 6 and 3. On Monday, after their eldest went to school, she told her teacher what had happened, and that started the chain of events.
To Arambula’s credit, there were no conditions to the interview.
He expressed remorse and embarrassment, regret and having been humbled. He also said he is motivated to return to Sacramento and work for the people of Fresno County.
The legal process will take some time to complete; the DA has not yet determined if charges will be filed. Beyond the legal aspects, three questions emerge that will need to be answered:
▪ First, is Arambula fit to be a parent? He committed to a course of counseling in the wake of the incident, and that will involve him and his wife and daughters. Child Protective Service officials will ultimately determine this answer. But it is important to note that the Arambulas regained custody of their children on Tuesday; the daughters had been staying with Arambula’s parents.
▪ Is Arambula fit to be a physician? He is the first Latino medical doctor to be elected to the Assembly, and worked in emergency rooms prior to entering politics. The state medical board, which grants licenses to doctors to practice, is looking into Arambula’s case.
▪ Is Arambula fit to be an assemblyman? Fresno County’s GOP did not wait to give its answer, calling on Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, to immediately seek Arambula’s resignation. The GOP’s statement also irresponsibly raised the specter that officials should check on whether other children might be involved, when there was no hint of that possibility. Arambula deserves fair treatment in the courts like anyone else — and that includes the court of public opinion.
Put another way, politics is a glass house, and Republicans should be careful about throwing stones. Sacramento lawmakers of both parties are no strangers to running afoul of the law, but typically for wrongdoing like driving under the influence or not living in the district they represent. Arambula’s case, even if it is a misdemeanor, sent significant shock waves.
Arambula knows he will need to regain public trust. He should have the chance to do that.
The irony is that Arambula has used his experience as a father and doctor to push legislation that would help children. In the last term Arambula secured $9.6 million for Fresno County officials to use in designing a child-care plan specific to local needs. With the funding of the pilot project, child care will be available for 1,300 children. It was with such service that The Bee recommended Arambula be given a new term.
Some local senior citizens might wonder what all the fuss is about. Their parents spanked, used a belt or otherwise engaged in physical punishment to discipline, and it worked out for the best, they will say. But times are different. Society is more alert to signs of child abuse; public officials like teachers are legally required to report anything they discover on a student that might indicate having been harmed.
Hopefully the Arambulas will grow closer as a family from this difficult chapter of their lives. At the same time, Arambula will return to Sacramento in January to again do the people’s business. He pledges to be open and transparent so constituents can see who he is and judge him accordingly. That will come in 2020 should he seek re-election.