Fresno police chief adds details on Arambula arrest in wake of assemblyman’s explanation

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said Thursday that Joaquin Arambula’s daughter suffered an injury in an area that was not her buttocks, casting doubt on public statements made by the Democratic assemblyman in an emotional series of news media interviews on Wednesday.

In an interview with The Bee, Dyer said it was not his place to debate Arambula’s version of the events which led to his Monday arrest on a misdemeanor child abuse allegation, nor could he share the exact details of the injury suffered by Arambula’s eldest daughter due to child privacy laws.

However, the chief made clear his belief that a line between legal discipline and a crime had been crossed in this case.

“It is important for people to know that when you discipline a child, and you spank them on the buttocks, it is perfectly allowable by law,” Dyer said. “However, when the level of discipline rises to the level where there is an injury, then that is a violation of the law.”

He continued: “There was an injury. I can’t get into the details of where (Arambula’s daughter’s) injury was, but it was not on the buttocks.”

Arambula’s counsel, Margarita Martinez-Baly and Michael J. Aed, sent a statement at 6 p.m. Thursday with a response to the chief’s comments:

“It is disappointing that Chief Dyer has taken to the media in order to try this case in the court of public opinion. We are conducting our own independent investigation. We have offered to meet with representatives of the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office so that relevant information can be presented that may have an impact on their ultimate decision to file charges. After an investigation by CPS that dispelled any concerns about child abuse, his children were returned to his custody.”

On Wednesday, Arambula conducted a series of interviews with the news media in which he said he had spanked his eldest daughter, who is 7, on her buttocks in an attempt to establish boundaries and provide discipline. He explained that this was a last resort, used maybe once per year in his household.

“It wasn’t the best night for all of us, and as a parent, I think most of us have felt those times when we can feel a bit overwhelmed,” Arambula said. “My daughter – in the midst of (her) acting out, I disciplined her as a consequence to something she did.”

The assemblyman and his wife, Elizabeth, regained custody of their three daughters – ages 7, 6 and 3 – on Wednesday and have agreed to attend voluntary family counseling, Arambula said.

“Everyone who knows us in the community and has seen us in the community knows that I’m a loving father,” Arambula said Wednesday. “I care about my daughters deeply. And I’m just going through a process and trying the best I can to be a husband and father who’s putting us back together again.”

Arambula was arrested and cited on a willful cruelty to a child allegation Monday after police were called to his daughter’s charter school by Child Protective Services. He has a court appearance scheduled for March 13, but he has yet to be officially charged with any crime.

Dyer said Thursday the investigation into Arambula is drawing to a close. He expected the case to be submitted to the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office early next week.

The chief reaffirmed a position he had taken earlier this week, saying he intends to see Arambula – someone whom he considers a capable leader and friend – prosecuted for the alleged child abuse crime.

“Based on the interviews that we’ve conducted, and the evidence that we have, we will be submitting this investigation for the purposes of pursuing prosecution,” Dyer said. “We will continue to perform an impartial investigation, and we intend to pursue prosecution regardless of his status in the community.”

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Rory Appleton is a fourth-generation Fresnan who covers politics for his hometown newspaper. A Fresno State graduate, he has won six first-place California News Publishers Association awards and a McClatchy President’s Award for his reporting and column writing over the last two years.