California Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia has taken a leave of absence after coming under investigation for sexual misconduct. Garcia, a vocal advocate for the #MeToo movement and government reform regarding sexual misconduct, has been accused of sexual harassment by a former legislative staffer.
On Feb. 8, Daniel Fierro, a former staffer to Democratic Assemblyman Ian Calderon of California, disclosed that he had made a complaint to the Assembly Rules Committee regarding Garcia. Fierro alleged that the legislator had groped him when he was 25 years old, Politico reported.
Fierro said that Garcia cornered him while he was cleaning up a dugout following the annual California Assembly softball game in 2014. The former staffer alleged that an inebriated Garcia stroked his back, groped his backside and attempted to grab his crotch. He said that he did not report the incident because he was nervous about crossing Garcia, who chaired the Legislative Women’s Caucus and Natural Resources Committee.
Fierro said that he told two co-workers of the incident at the time but waited until January 2018 to inform Calderon, who referred the matter to the Rules Committee.
Meanwhile, a male lobbyist who requested anonymity accused Garcia of attempting to grope him during a fundraiser in May 2017. The lobbyist said that Garcia had been making him uncomfortable with flirtatious advances before approaching him as he attempted to exit the event.
“She came back and was whispering real close and I could smell the booze and see she was pretty far gone,” the lobbyist said. “She looked at me for a second and said: ‘I’ve set a goal for myself to f**k you.”
The lobbyist alleged that Garcia reached out in an attempt to grip his groin but that he rebuffed her advances.
On Feb. 8, Garcia released a statement responding to Fierro’s allegation.
“The details of these claims have never been brought to my attention until today,” Garcia said. “I can confirm that I did attend the 2014 legislative softball game with a number of members and my staff. I can also say I have zero recollection of engaging in inappropriate behavior and such behavior is inconsistent with my values.”
Garcia has been a vocal advocate for the #MeToo movement. The assemblywoman joined 140 other women from Sacramento in signing a letter that decried what they characterized as a culture of sexual misconduct in the California Legislature. In October 2017, she alleged that several of her male peers had harassed her throughout her career.
“Multiple people have grabbed my butt and grabbed my breasts,” Garcia told The New York Times. “We’re talking about senior lobbyists and lawmakers.”
Garcia also supported reforms in how the California Assembly would handle internal complaints of assault or harassment. In December 2017, Time magazine featured her picture in a collage of victims of harassment and #MeToo advocates, labeling them “The Silence Breakers.”
Los Angeles Ethics Commission President Jessica Levinson said that Garcia’s prominence in the movement made the allegations especially disturbing.
“Hypocrisy knows no bounds and no partisanship, it crosses all party affiliations,’’ Levinson said. “To the extent that these are substantiated claims, there’s a picture of Cristina Garcia as a hypocrite in the dictionary … And frankly, this threatens to set the movement back — because when you have one of the faces of this movement facing these allegations, that’s a real problem.”
Fierro said that he decided to come forward with his allegation because he felt empowered by #MeToo and because he was unsettled by Garcia’s position in the movement.
“People had an impression of Cristina,” Fierro told The Washington Post. “I knew that I had had an experience that didn’t jibe with what was she was saying, and that kind of hypocrisy was really hard to stomach.”
On Feb. 9, Garcia announced that she would voluntarily take unpaid leave from the Assembly, The Associated Press reported.
“Upon reflection of the details alleged, I am certain I did not engage in the behavior I am accused of,” Garcia said in a statement. “However, as I’ve said before, any claims about sexual harassment must be taken seriously, and I believe elected officials should be held to a higher standard of accountability.”