US & Canada

#MeToo California assemblywoman accused of groping

Ms Garcia Image copyright California Assembly
Image caption Cristina Garcia has previously said alcohol is not an acceptable excuse for sexual misconduct

A California state assemblywoman who rose to national prominence as a campaigner against sexual assault is now herself accused of misconduct.

The state legislature is investigating Democrat Cristina Garcia, who featured in a Time magazine profile of #MeToo victims last year.

Ms Garcia denies groping another lawmaker's male aide and attempting to fondle a lobbyist.

She said she would take a leave of absence during the inquiry.

When the allegations first emerged, Ms Garcia said she had "zero recollection of engaging in inappropriate behaviour".

"Such behaviour is inconsistent with my values," she added.

Ms Garcia, who was elected in 2012 and chairs the Legislative Women's Caucus and the Natural Resources Committee. pledged to participate in any investigation.

"Every complaint about sexual harassment should be taken seriously," she said.

But in a follow-up statement, the influential Los Angeles-area lawmaker added: "Upon reflection of the details alleged, I am certain I did not engage in the behaviour I am accused of."

She says she volunteered for an unpaid leave of absence "so as not to serve as a distraction or in any way influence the process of this investigation", adding that she looks forward to returning to work.

The first accusation comes from Daniel Fierro, who said a drunken Ms Garcia cornered him after an annual legislative softball game in 2014 in the team dugout.

He said Ms Garcia stroked his back, squeezed his buttocks and attempted to grab his crotch.

Mr Fierro told Politico he did not originally report the incident. He said he was 25 years old at the time.

He is not the only man accusing Ms Garcia of unwanted sexual advances.

Another accuser, whom Politico described as a prominent lobbyist at California's state capital, claims the lawmaker tried to fondle him at a fundraiser last year.

The man, who wished to remain anonymous because he represents a major industry association, said Ms Garcia had leaned in close enough to him that he could smell alcohol on her breath.

She whispered that she had "set a goal" for herself to have sex with him and used a vulgarity, he said.

The accuser said he stopped Ms Garcia from grabbing his genitals, and told her "that ain't gonna happen".

The claims come months after the lawmaker told the New York Times she had experienced sexual harassment.

"Multiple people have grabbed my butt and grabbed my breasts," she said about alleged incidents in the state capital of Sacramento.

"We're talking about senior lobbyists and lawmakers."

Her story later featured in Time magazine's issue honouring "silence breakers".

Both Mr Fierro and the lobbyist said Ms Garcia was heavily inebriated at the time of the alleged assaults.

In a November interview with the Associated Press news agency about alcohol at political fundraisers, Ms Garcia said that blaming drink is not an acceptable excuse for inappropriate sexual behaviour.

"I would say that most of the public realises that our job is based on relationships, and so we are expected to go out there and socialise," she said.

"I think our public also expects us to hold ourselves to a higher standard."

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