An outspoken California lawmaker who has been at the forefront of the Capitol’s anti-sexual harassment movement is herself under investigation for allegedly groping a former legislative staff member.
Daniel Fierro, who now operates a political communications firm in Cerritos, said Thursday that Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, cornered him at a legislative softball game in 2014, began stroking his back, squeezed his butt and attempted to grab his crotch before he extricated himself. Politico first reported the story.
Fierro told The Bee in an interview that he initially hesitated to come forward, but he felt compelled after hearing that others may have had similar experiences with Garcia. He said he did not want Garcia’s lack of credibility to damage efforts to address sexual misconduct at the Capitol, a campaign that launched in October when she and 146 other women published an open letter slamming a “pervasive” culture of harassment in California politics. Garcia also heads the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, which has been pushing legislative leaders to overhaul sexual harassment complaint and discipline policies.
“To see her be the face of the movement and have that draped around her, it’s incredibly hypocritical,” Fierro said. “I don’t think it helps the movement. I don’t think it helps the victims.”
Two lawmakers have resigned and one is on leave at the California Capitol over allegations of improper conduct toward women at the California Capitol. At least one other is under investigation, while the Legislature decides what the next steps are.
In a statement, Garcia confirmed that she attended the 2014 softball game, but said the details of the complaint had not previously been brought to her attention.
“Every complaint about sexual harassment should be taken seriously and I will participate fully in any investigation that takes place,” she said. “I can also say I have zero recollection of engaging in inappropriate behavior and such behavior is inconsistent with my values.”
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon confirmed in a statement that the Assembly has hired an outside firm to investigate the incident.
“I trust that while the investigation proceeds Assemblymember Garcia will respond appropriately and in a way that fortifies the Legislature’s effort to create a new climate,” he said. “As in other cases, while the investigation moves forward, I am also asking Assembly Human Resources to reach out to Assemblymember Garcia’s staff to ensure they feel safe in their work environment.”
Fierro said he was a young district staff member for Assemblyman Ian Calderon, D-Whittier, when the incident occurred. He attended the legislative softball game in August 2014 while visiting Sacramento on business, he said, and went to the dugout after the game to talk to his boss. As the dugout cleared out, Fierro said, Garcia walked in and came up to talk to him. He said they already knew each other because Garcia was his local assemblywoman.
Garcia was “clearly inebriated,” Fierro said, and grabbed his arm. At first he thought she was just trying to steady herself, but then Garcia grabbed his back, he said, and began to stroke it.
“Her hand was there and it slipped down to my butt and she tried to squeeze,” Fierro said. He said he knew then that it had crossed a line and he spun away from her to leave. As he was walking past her, Fierro said, Garcia made a grab for his crotch.
“The entire encounter lasted 30-45 seconds,” he said. “I was in shock. I was embarrassed.”
Fierro said it was “not a life-damaging experience,” so he did not feel the need to report it to the Assembly at the time. He added that his mandatory sexual harassment training at the Capitol had never included examples where the victim was a man and the perpetrator was a woman, so he “didn’t have a way to frame it” in his mind.
But last month, Fierro said, people he knew began asking him about what had happened with Garcia. He said he was concerned that it might get out, so he wanted to warn his former boss. He said Calderon was “very supportive” and said he would do everything he could to help. A few weeks later, Fierro said, he was contacted by the Assembly about a complaint that Calderon made on his behalf.
“Every allegation must be taken seriously and once I became aware of Danny’s story, I felt I had the obligation to report it,” Calderon said in a statement.
Fierro said he completed an interview with an independent investigator for the Assembly last Friday to discuss his experience. If a complaint had not been made on his behalf, he said he likely never would have said anything. But, Fierro added, he does not want to be the reason Garcia’s misconduct is not addressed.
Politico also reported a second incident involving an unnamed Sacramento lobbyist, who said Garcia cornered him at a fundraiser in May 2017, made a graphic sexual proposal and tried to grab his crotch. The lobbyist said he never made a complaint about the behavior out of concern for his clients.
We Said Enough, the group behind the letter that Garcia signed, said in a statement, “We are concerned about these reports and they need to be investigated thoroughly, without delay.”
Sen. Connie Leyva, a Chino Democrat who serves as vice chair for the California Legislative Women’s Caucus under Garcia, quickly called on her to take a leave of absence while the review is pending.
“I will be asking that the membership of the Caucus meet in the very near future to discuss the fate of Assemblymember Cristina Garcia as Women’s Caucus Chair,” Leyva said in a statement. “Anyone proven to have sexually harassed or assaulted another person, regardless of their gender, should be held accountable for their actions.”
Two Democratic assemblymen, Raul Bocanegra and Matt Dababneh, resigned last fall as women came forward publicly to accuse them of groping and making unwanted sexual advances. Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, is also currently on a leave of absence while the Senate investigates allegations that he behaved inappropriately toward young women on his staff. As the stories emerged last fall, Garcia was the first lawmaker to declare she would not work with them.