Lemon Grove City Councilman David Arambula may be facing a federal civil rights lawsuit and potential criminal charges because of a fight he had last summer at his home with a San Diego businessman who is trying to open at least two marijuana dispensaries in the East County city.
The details surrounding the alleged assault first came to light this week when the Lemon Grove City Council rejected a claim filed by Christopher Williams, who was seeking damages and costs for medical care arising from injuries suffered during the altercation with Arambula, including a bite to the torso.
Arambula does not dispute he and Williams exchanged punches, but there are differing accounts about what happened the night of July 14 and early into the morning of July 15.
Williams says he was invited to Arambula’s home by Taisha Brown, a member of the executive board of the San Diego County Democratic Party. Brown also invited Lemon Grove Mayor Racquel Vasquez.
Williams said he accepted the invitation because he wanted to discuss his frustration over delays in getting the businesses off the ground. Williams says he has invested thousands trying to open the businesses.
Arambula, Brown and Vasquez said the intent of the evening was to socialize and brainstorm ways to improve Lemon Grove, not to discuss business. Arambula and Vasquez both said Williams repeatedly tried to raise the subject of his dispensaries and they repeatedly warned Williams that city protocol prohibited them from giving him any indication how they might rule on his planned businesses.
“I told him that I couldn’t hear his pitch about dispensaries in the city,” Arambula said. “I told him he had to follow the protocol and process.”
The fight reportedly began around midnight.
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In his claim, Williams accuses Arambula of “drinking heavily” and hitting him on the head with a beer bottle just after midnight. The claim goes on to say that Arambula allegedly bit, kicked, punched and choked Williams. Williams said he was taken to Alvarado Hospital by his wife, Kathleen, where he said he had to get a tetanus shot. The claim says witnesses to the event include Vasquez and Brown. Both deny being present during the physical altercation.
Arambula refutes Williams’ story of what happened, and said that neither Vasquez nor Brown were there when the incident occurred. Vasquez says she was unaware Williams would be present at Arambula’s house.
Vasquez and Brown went home around 11:30 p.m. and Arambula said that soon after the two left, a frustrated Williams said to him, “You’re going to do what I need you to do.” He said Williams then grabbed his shirt with both hands and would not release his grip.
Arambula, who is 5-foot-7, 190 lbs., said after that, the two traded punches and wrestled and that Williams, 36, who is taller but weighs about 30 lbs. less, tried to choke him. Arambula said he bit Williams to break his hold.
“After that, he basically got subdued, so I grabbed the back of his belt loop and dragged him outside to the sidewalk and locked the gate,” said Arambula, 43. “I called Taisha and told her that someone needed to come get him.”
Brown said she did not want to comment on the events of the evening.
Williams’s injuries were reported to authorities while he was being treated at the hospital, but he declined to press charges at that time, saying he feared retaliation from the city.
Arambula said he did not contact authorities because he didn’t feel he was in imminent danger and was trying to protect the mayor and the city’s best interests.
“I was thinking it would not look good for anyone,” Arambula said.
Williams’ attorney, Cory Briggs, announced Friday he would be filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against Arambula and the city on behalf of Williams. He also said he and Williams would be requesting a meeting with the Interim District Attorney.
The incident has left some members of the council wondering why Arambula would put himself in the position of even appearing to decide city business in a private setting. While a meeting involving city officials itself isn’t a violation as long as three council members aren’t there, City Council members are not supposed to decide city business or appear to decide city business that will later come before them for a vote.
City Councilwoman Jennifer Mendoza said she understood why Arambula didn’t report the incident to the Sheriff’s Department.
“I think maybe he thought he didn’t do anything wrong, protecting himself,” she said. “It was on his property, he asked the guy to leave and he didn’t go. I think David might have thought he did what he needed to do to defend himself.”
City Councilman Jerry Jones said he wasn’t sure why Williams was visiting Arambula at his home late at night instead of in a public venue by day.
“I hope that in this case both parties have learned a lesson and that professional conversations are kept professional and in a professional setting,” Jones said.
© 2018 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Visit The San Diego Union-Tribune at www.sandiegouniontribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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