Nation

Abuse claims sideline California lawmaker

Cristina Garcia
Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press/File
Cristina Garcia

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, an #MeToo advocate, took a voluntary unpaid leave of absence Friday, a day after sexual misconduct allegations against her became public.

Garcia, a Democrat, chairs the Legislative Women’s Caucus and has been an outspoken ally of the antisexual harassment movement sweeping the California Capitol and the nation.

She is accused of groping former legislative staff member Daniel Fierro in 2014, an allegation she denies. His claim is under a formal investigation, and Garcia said she is taking a leave to minimize distractions and avoid appearances of exerting influence.

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‘‘Upon reflection of the details alleged, I am certain I did not engage in the behavior I am accused of,’’ Garcia said. ‘‘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.’’

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In a separate case in Oregon, a state senator resigned after an investigation determined he had harassed women in the Capitol building with prolonged hugging, groping, and other unwelcome physical contact.

Senator Jeff Kruse issued a statement asserting that he was deprived of his rights and proclaiming his innocence. He said his resignation is effective March 15.

Fierro accused Garcia of stroking his back, grabbing his buttocks, and trying to grab his crotch in the dugout after a legislative softball game. An anonymous male lobbyist told Politico on Thursday that Garcia made a crude sexual remark and tried to grab his crotch at a May 2017 fund-raiser.

Both the lobbyist and Fierro said Garcia appeared to be drunk at the time of the incidents.

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Garcia, of Bell Gardens, was one of nearly 150 women to sign an open letter in October calling out a pervasive culture of sexual harassment at the Capitol and said that she herself has been the target of groping and inappropriate remarks by people in the building.

She slammed two male colleagues accused of misconduct before both resigned last year, and she was featured in Time Magazine’s Person of the Year issue on sexual harassment ‘‘Silence Breakers.’’

About two dozen sexual harassment allegations were made against Assembly lawmakers, staff and lobbyists in 2017 — the most within a single year since 2006 — and at least eight allegations are pending, according to documents released last week.