By Miriam Raftery
Photo: Williams' facial injuries, taken by Kathleen McLean
March 1, 2023 (Lemon Grove) – A civil lawsuit filed by Christopher Williams against the City of Lemon Grove and former Councilman David Arambula alleges that Arambula violently assaulted Williams at Arambula’s home in July 2017. Williams contends that he was “attacked” after a meeting regarding an appeal filed by Williams over a cannabis dispensary application. Attorneys for Arambula and the city contend that Williams’ injuries resulted from a “fight” and that Arambula acted in self defense.
In opening statements in Superior Court on day one of the trial today, Williams’ attorney Cory Briggs stated that the evidence will show that “Mr. Arambula, unprovoked, beat my client almost senseless,” causing a visit to a hospital emergency room and resulting in serious physical and emotional damage.
Briggs told the jurors to focus on where the meeting took place at Arambula’s house and why was it held there, as well as how the meeting ended in violence, and why. He cautioned that much of what the jurors would hear would be “noise” intended to distract them from the evidence.
Kathryn Lee-Colgan, attorney for Arambula, told the jury to focus on “responsibility, reasonableness and common sense. She stated that Arambula was the city’s first elected Latino councilmember and a former Marine.
She said her client accepted responsibility for “not using his best judgment” in allowing Williams to come to his house, and said Arambula was told by Taisha Brown, a Democratic party official, that Williams wanted to discuss investment in Lemon Grove. She claimed that both Arambula and Mayor Racquel Vasquez, who arrived late in the evening, declined to discuss the dispensary application. She accused Williams of “publicizing the fight to embarrass the city.”
Kimberly S. Oberrecht, the attorney representing Lemon Grove, argued that the “gathering that began at 7:30 p.m. and ended at midnight was not an official city meeting” but rather a social occasion with drinking, laughing, dancing, and swimming. The altercation late at night was “purely personal,” according to Oberrecht.
The first witness called was Kathleen McLean, Williams’ fiancée and girlfriend of 20 years. She said she has never known Williams to be violent. She testified that she didn’t attend the event at Arambula’s home because Williams told her it was a business meeting. When Williams returned home after midnight “he was covered in blood,” adding that he had difficulty breathing, was holding his side, moving slowly with eyes half shut. “He was hysterical, upset…really in a lot of pain.”
They didn’t call the Sheriff initially “because we were terrified we would be retaliated against…because David Arambula was dangerous,” she said, adding that she looked Arambula up on Google. The judge struck a portion of her comment from the record.
McLean testified about washing Williams’ wounds, taking photos of his injuries, and driving him from the hospital. Photos shown to the jury showed a long gash on Williams’ face that required stitches, blood on his face, contusions and bite marks on both of his arms. She said he was not drunk.
She stated that after that night, for several months Williams was unable to run, do pullups or pushups, help her daughter with cross country running, swim at the beach or lift their youngest daughter. She said he would awaken at night, screaming and sweating, and began stuttering including in business meetings.
Three days after the violent incident, Williams and McLean attended a Lemon Grove Council meeting because his dispensary was on appeal. The Council did not vote, delaying action to another date. McLean said Councilman Arambula praised Williams for doing something positive for the city, adding that after the meeting, he approached Williams outside. “He apologized and wanted to meet with him on another date.”
On cross examination, asked if shew as afraid of Arambula, she said, “Yes” but added that they had to continue attending Council meetings because Williams had multiple projects pending including dispensaries and a proposed brewery.
Next, Williams took the stand. He said he was self-employed in venture capitol, owned an auto garage and a transportation company, when he decided to invest in the newly legalized cannabis industry in Lemon Grove. He explained that he believed staff’s denial of his dispensary application was wrong, since staff found that the site was within 1,000 feet of a church school, but Williams said he had evidence that this was untrue.
Williams said Taisha Brown called him a couple of weeks before the incident and met him at Starbucks, telling him she could help with the cannabis application, and that she invited him to a meeting at Arambula’s home to show him the evidence regarding the dispensary site. He testified that he followed Brown in his own vehicle and that Arambula met them outside the home.
Once inside, Williams said after exchanging pleasantries, all three of them sat at the dining room table and started discussing applications, staff decisions and why they were made. He said Arambula pulled out a binder with a City Council agenda and other documents, and that Arambula discussed which of his colleagues might support the appeal.
Williams said Arambula was holding a drink when everyone arrived and that Arambula poured drinks for everyone, including wine for Brown and a mixed “brown drink” of alcohol and Coca Cola for Arambula and Williams. Arambula said he had no more than two drinks, but that Arambula had at least four. The defense indicated this was inconsistent with a statement in the Sheriff’s report, but Williams, seeing the report for the first time, said this was inaccurate.
File photo: David Arambula, while serving as Lemon Grove Councilman. Arambula lost his reelection campaign in 2020.
Williams said Arambula called Mayor Vasquez on speakerphone to come out and discuss matters and that she arrived around 10 pm. He said Arambula “coached” him and spent a “good hour” going over details.
“We talked about the application and how he would be helping me. He told me to be very nice to the mayor because she was going through some personal things, and that we would get this done if I partnered with who he wanted.” Williams said he indicated he didn’t need a partner, only to have decision makers look at the map and evidence that the dispensary wasn’t near a school.
Williams contends the mayor sat at the table when she arrived and that a discussion on the dispensary appeal was held, led by Arambula.
Later everyone went outside by the pool, where people were dancing. Williams said he danced with the Mayor; the defense attorney tried to suggest this was unwanted attention and asked if the Mayor tried to run away; Williams said, “No.”
Photo, left: Mayor Racquel Vasquez, who won reelection in 2020, defeating several challengers including Williams.
Later, Williams said that Arambula “took off his clothes, got in the pool naked and asked us to get in with him. I was shocked,” he said, adding that no one else got in the pool. “ He said Taisha Brown was “egging him on.” When asked how, he said “She was asking about the size of his penis” and said, “Go, David, go,” and that Arambula was dancing in the pool.
Williams said Brown made a videotape recording of Arambula naked in the pool. “He was getting erratic. He was drunk,” Williams said of Arambula.
He said after Arambula got out of the pool, “He was upset. He threw a glass against the wall.” He said he helped clean up the glass, along with Brown and Vasquez, and that all three realized it was time to go and left.
Once outside, he intended to call Uber for a ride home, but realized he’d left his phone inside Arambula’s home. Williams said he always calls Uber or Lyft if he’s had even one drink, since he had a DUI when he was 22, years ago. He knocked on Arambula’s door and the others left.
Williams said he told Arambula he needed to get his phone and was admitted, while Arambula was on the phone with the Mayor. He said Arambula made a “joke” and then “Next thing I knew, I was on all fours. He hit me on the side of my head with a champagne bottle I brought…I saw a flash of light and I blacked out real quick.” When he came to, he said he was on the ground with Arambula “behind me and he’s punching, I’m screaming, asking why he had done this…he’s punching my ribs, my back, then he put me in chokehold,” Williams said in a quiet, firm voice.
A wrestler in high school, Williams said when Arambula’s head was over his shoulder, he was able to flip Arambula over . “I was now behind him, with my arms around his neck area,” he said, adding that he feared for his life. “He bit me, twice, on my arms. I left him got. He told me to leave and I left.” He then drove home.
He said he didn’t call the Sheriff “because I was scared of David Arambula and the ramifications to our business.” The Hospital called the Sheriff and he spoke with a deputy. Later Williams said Arambula had spoken of having connections to “organized crime.”
At the hospital he recalls, “my rib was pounding, and every time I tried to take a breath it was excruciating.” He got stitches for the gash on his face, a “contraption” to help him breath so he wouldn’t get pneumonia, a tetanus shot due to the bites, and a prescription for pain medication.
He said it took about three months for the injuries to heal, and echoed McLean’s description of how his activities were impacted. He said he couldn’t sleep because he was scared. “I woke up at every noise. I put knives around my house .I still have recurrent nightmares.”
Williams said he didn’t get follow-up medical care or pay the hospital bill because “I didn’t have insurance and I don’t feel I should have to pay for being attacked.” He did, however see a mental health provider after a deposition which he found “triggering.”
Lee-Colgan sought to poke holes in his account in cross-examination. She noted that in his complaint it was stated that Arambula contacted him to invite him to his home, but Briggs stipulated that this was his error in preparing the form.
Arambula's attorney brought up that Brown asked Williams to pay for services. He confirmed this but also stated that he never paid her anything. A defense lawyer asked if Arambula asked him for a campaign contribution. Williams said no, but indicated that he had been asked “about a PAC” (political action committee.)
Lee-Colgan asked about a statement in the complaint that Williams had 3-5 drinks, he insisted it was no more than two. Briggs stipulated this was also an attorney error in drafting (Williams contends that it was Arambula who had several drinks. Williams admitted he had not read everything in the complaint that he signed.
Williams previously said in a deposition that he had no real conversation with Arambula when he came back to get his phone, other than asking to retrieve the phone. In court, he said Arambula cracked a joke. Asked what the joke was, he said Arambula made a joke about Williams being “skinny” and that Williams responded with “similar to the size of his [Arambula’s] penis,” and that Arambula laughed.
Williams said he believed the reason Arambula “attacked” him wasn’t because of the joke, but because Williams refused to partner with the person Arambula wanted him to partner with on the dispensary application.
Arambula’s lawyer grilled Williams over the altercation and suggested it wasn’t “reasonable” to believe that the fight began for no reason. Arambula has claimed Williams grabbed him by the lapels and told him to do as Williams said; Williams has denied this accusation.
Photo, left: Williams during his mayor campaign in 2020.
The attorney questioned Williams over social media images posted during his campaign for mayor in the months after the incident, including a post at a Coronado beach and a photo at Sycuan golf course. Neither showed Williams engaged in any physical activity, but hashtags suggested terms like “jog.” Williams said he didn’t remember doing any jogging or golfing on those occasions and that he’s not the only one who sent posts out on his campaign accounts. He said he may have gone to Sycuan for the restaurant there.
Asked why he talked with the press about the altercation, he said,”Getting the truth out there was probably that safest thing that I can do….Just because I commented, Ma’am, doesn’t mean I wasn’t scared.” Pressed on why he attended council meetings so soon after his injuries, he said, “I have multiple businesses there. I had to show up.”
The city’s attorney said it’s a felony to file a false claim with the city” and pressed Williams on a statement that Arambula was “more interested in talking about me giving him money” than discussing the dispensary. Williams clarified that he wasn’t referring to campaign donations, but rather to Arambula pressuring him to take on a partner he didn’t want.
Asked why he decided to sue the city, Willams said, “I wanted to be made whole.” As for why he changed his mind and asked the Sheriff to consider filing charges long after the incident, Williams said, “After the deposition, I could tell that Mr. Arambula had clearly lied to me.”
Asked why the Sheriff’s department didn’t file charges,” Williams replied, “That main Sheriff was indicted on a big case.”
The judge voiced skepticism at this statement, whereupon Williams clarified that the Sheriff Captain he was referring to was “Mr. Garmo.” Former Captain Marco Garmo later pleaded guilty to operating an illegal arms trafficking operation.
Tomorrow, former Councilman Arambula is scheduled to take the stand as the case continues at San Diego Superior Court.