#MeToo state law­maker cleared of grop­ing claim

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - FROM THE COVER - By Melody Gu­tier­rez Melody Gu­tier­rez is a San Francisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: mgutier­rez@sfchron­i­cle. com Twit­ter: @MelodyGu­tier­rez

SACRA­MENTO — Assem­bly­woman Cristina Gar­cia of­ten used vul­gar lan­guage in the of­fice, asked her staff to run per­sonal er­rands and dis­par­aged other elected of­fi­cials, an Assem­bly-com­mis­sioned in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­cluded Thurs­day — but it did not find that the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat groped or ha­rassed a staffer in 2014.

The grop­ing al­le­ga­tion was the most se­ri­ous lodged against Gar­cia, who was a leader of the Capi­tol’s #MeToo move­ment against sexual ha­rass­ment be­fore go­ing on un­paid leave in Feb­ru­ary af­ter be­com­ing the tar­get of a com­plaint her­self.

Assem­bly Speaker An­thony Ren­don, D-Para­mount (Los Angeles County), said Thurs­day that Gar­cia will be stripped of her com­mit­tee as­sign­ments and re­quired to take sen­si­tiv­ity and sexual ha­rass­ment train­ing as a re­sult of an out­side in­ves­ti­ga­tor’s find­ings. She is run­ning for re-elec­tion.

“De­spite the de­ci­sion that the most egre­gious al­le­ga­tions could not be sub­stan­ti­ated, it is clear that Assem­bly­mem­ber Gar­cia has en­gaged in a pat­tern of be­hav­ior that must be ad­dressed,” he said in a state­ment.

The ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tion against Gar­cia, D-Bell Gar­dens (Los Angeles County), was lodged by Daniel Fierro, who said she cor­nered him af­ter an Assem­bly soft­ball game four years ago and grabbed his but­tocks and crotch.

Fierro did not re­port the in­ci­dent until Jan­uary, as Gar­cia was be­com­ing one of the most vo­cal ad­vo­cates of ex­pos­ing sexual ha­rass­ment in the state Capi­tol. Fierro said he felt Gar­cia was be­ing hyp­o­crit­i­cal.

The com­plaints were in­ves­ti­gated by Vida Thomas, a Sacra­mento em­ploy­ment at­tor­ney re­tained by the Assem­bly.

The Assem­bly said its pol­icy is to not re­lease find­ings until af­ter each party in­volved has been given 10 days to ap­peal the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Gar­cia re­leased her state­ment Thurs­day ahead of the ap­peals process. Fierro shared a let­ter he re­ceived about the find­ings with The Chron­i­cle.

Fierro dis­puted the in­ves­ti­ga­tor’s con­clu­sion and said he is con­sid­er­ing an ap­peal. He said he had pro­vided two wit­nesses

who could cor­rob­o­rate what he said, but that only one had been con­tacted for the probe.

“I have se­ri­ous con­cerns about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion,” Fierro said. “This process isn’t trans­par­ent and isn’t de­signed to give any clar­ity or re­ally any due process.”

An at­tor­ney for four for­mer staffers of Gar­cia also cast doubt on the process, say­ing in an email to The Chron­i­cle that the Assem­bly in­ves­ti­ga­tion was far from in­de­pen­dent.

The at­tor­ney, Dan Gilleon, sent a let­ter in Feb­ru­ary to the Assem­bly on be­half of Gar­cia’s for­mer staffer David John Kernick and three other ex-em­ploy­ees, none of whom was named. They de­scribed a toxic and sex­u­ally charged work­place un­der the assem­bly­woman.

The com­plaint said Gar­cia of­ten talked in “un­com­fort­able de­tail” about her sex life, in­clud­ing de­scrib­ing sexual ac­tiv­i­ties with other law­mak­ers in their Assem­bly of­fices. The for­mer em­ploy­ees said Gar­cia told them that hav­ing sex with other law­mak­ers was a good way to get in­for­ma­tion from them. They said Gar­cia had pres­sured them to drink al­co­hol with her and to run per­sonal er­rands for her.

Gilleon pro­vided The Chron­i­cle with the let­ter that the Assem­bly sent to him Thurs­day sub­stan­ti­at­ing three of the claims against Gar­cia: that she used vul­gar lan­guage in the of­fice, asked her staff to run er­rands and dis­par­aged other elected of­fi­cials.

Gar­cia apol­o­gized for those, say­ing her “use of lan­guage was less than pro­fes­sional.”

“I want to as­sure ev­ery­one that I have learned from this ex­pe­ri­ence and will do ev­ery­thing in my power to make amends for my past,” Gar­cia said in a state­ment. “I look for­ward to re­turn­ing to work and get­ting back to the busi­ness of rep­re­sent­ing my con­stituents.”

Assem­bly­woman Cristina Gar­cia, an L.A. County Demo­crat, went on un­paid leave.

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