Bell Gardens Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, who gained national attention for her vocal role in the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment only to find herself the target of an allegation that she
harassed and groped a former legislative staffer, announced Friday that she is taking an unpaid leave of absence while the Assembly investigates the matter.
``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.''
Garcia said she would take an unpaid leave ``so as not to serve as a distraction or in any way influence the process of this investigation.''
Daniel Fierro said Garcia cornered him at an Assembly softball game in Sacramento in 2014, squeezed his buttocks and tried to touch his crotch. Fierro, who was on the staff of Assemblyman Ian Calderon, D-Whittier, said he managed to break away from Garcia and walk away.
Fierro did not report the confrontation at the time, but told Calderon last month. According to Politico, Calderon referred the matter to the Assembly Rules Committee, which began an investigation.
Garcia issued a statement Thursday saying she would cooperate with the investigation, but saying she has no recollection of engaging in any such behavior.
``Every complaint about sexual harassment should be taken seriously and I will participate fully in any investigation that takes place,'' she said. ``The details of these claims have never been brought to my attention until today. I can confirm that I did attend the 2014 legislative softball game with a number of members and my staff. I can also say I have zero recollection of engaging in inappropriate behavior and such behavior is inconsistent with my values.''
A picture of Garcia was included in Time magazine's ``Persons of the Year'' issue in December that honored ``Silence Breakers'' who spoke out against sexual harassment.
Garcia, who has said she had been repeatedly sexually harassed by men during her time in the Legislature, was also among the first to denounce male members of the Assembly who were accused of sexual misconduct.
Assemblymen Raul Bocanegra and Matt Dababneh both resigned last year in response to accusations of unwanted sexual advances. Sen. Tony Mendoza, D- Artesia, is on a leave of absence pending an investigation into similar allegations against him.