By Miriam Raftery
March 27, 2018 (Lemon Grove) – Christopher Williams, the medical marijuana dispensary advocate who has filed a claim against Lemon Grove detailed an alleged assault by Councilman David Arambula, is speaking out to dispute Arambula’s self-defense claim.
Williams also contends that city staff stalled his applications for multiple dispensaries by claiming not to have received results of a Department of Justice screening of all applicants, when e-mails from the DOJ indicate the results were sent to the city earlier.
Arambula is also drawing criticism from current and former councilmembers for failing to disclose the scuffle that sent Williams to a hospital for treatment of significant injuries including a fractured rib, gash on his face and bite marks on his arm. Mayor Racquel Vasquez is named as a potential witness in Williams claim, along with Taisha Brown, a Democratic Party activist, but both have declined to speak with media. Some members of the council contend they were kept in the dark by Arambula and Vasquez about the violent altercation even when voting on dispensary applications submitted by Williams for Pick Axe Holdings, LLC.
Of his four applications, three were denied due to not meeting distance requirements. A fourth was initially denied but later found to meet distance requirements and a conditional use permit remains pending, according to the city’s record of dispensary applications. Williams says he was denied the opportunity to turn in a fifth application and was told someone else had applied on the same property.
Meanwhile the Candid Chronicle, a pro-marijuana publication that has been critical of Arambula and the city’s handling of the case and that quoted Williams’ wife, Kathleen McLean, on his injuries, has drawn criticism of its own for failing to disclose that it was founded by Williams, whose wife is listed as its publisher on her Facebook page. Councilman Jerry Jones filed a Sheriff report alleging cyberstalking by the publication, a claim Williams vigorously denies.
Williams speaks out
“I had dreams as a kid of being on the covers of business magazines,” Williams told ECM in an interview, adding that the negative publicity over the altercation has been upsetting to him. “I don’t want to be on the front page of any newspaper, but for doing good,” he says.
Father of a teen and a younger child, he says he view the cannabis industry as an opportunity to help his family and create economic value with communities involved. He contends he studied Lemon Grove’s ordinance and has strived to be complaint, but feels he has been treated unfairly. “I’m taking this very seriously. This is my reputation,” he says.
According to Arambula, Brown asked him to meet Williams at Arambula’s home with Williams about investing in Lemon Grove. He claimed to be unaware it was about marijuana dispensaries and that when he found out, he asked Williams to leave. He said the Mayor came over at Brown’s request and that after they left, Williams attacked him, unprovoked and he defended himself. Arambula admits to biting and punching Williams, but denied hitting him with a bottle.
Williams declined to comment on some of the details until his attorney deems it appropriate but adds, “The truth will come out, adding that he believes texts and videos will confirm his contention that Arambula attacked him.
He does, however, insist that Arambula did strike him with a bottle. “Look at the long gash on my face,” he points out. “That was not a punch.”
He denies attacking Arambula, adding, “I’m 130 pounds, 135 pounds soaking wet.”
The city has denied Williams claim, filed by attorney Cory Briggs. Asked if he plans to file a lawsuit against the city and Arambula, Williams replied that he’ll follow his attorney’s advice. “I believe I’ve got one of the best attorneys that’s out there. He’s standing up for me…I trust in him and believe in him.”
The Sheriff’s Department has confirmed that Williams did file a report the night of the altercation. However, Lieutenant Scott Amos informed ECM in an email, “The criminal case regarding this alleged assault is currently closed due to the victim, Christopher Williams, choosing not to identify the suspect at the time the crime report was taken and not desiring prosecution,” instead choosing to pursue the matter through the civil process. He adds, “The statutory time limit allows for the criminal case to be reopened should Mr. Williams change his mind and desire to pursues the matter criminally. If this occurs, the Sheriff’s Department will reopen the criminal case and continue the investigative process.”
Williams has indicated in other media that he did not name Arambula in the criminal report because he was afraid of biasing city decision makers against his dispensary applications.
Other Councilmembers weigh in
Councilman Matt Mendoza says he learned of the altercation through media reports. He has sent a letter to the city attorney and city manager asking for an investigation of the incident and what he contends was a cover-up. I would like to hear the witnesses, too, to hear the truth.” He wants to know why he was kept in the dark by Arambula and the Mayor until the claim was filed months later, at a time when councilmembers were voting on dispensary applications. “It was swept under the rug,” he contends.
Councilman Jerry Jones told ECM that he filed a complaint of his own against Williams. "Yes, I did file a report with the Sheriff about what could be called internet stalking of my family,” he said. “Mr. Williams and his associates, including Candid Chronicle, were spamming my accounts and my family with likes. Sounds silly, but in the internet world that is concerning for some people and is a form of stalking. In addition, members of my family were included in some sort of chat or text group on Instagram where nasty comments were made about me.” H e says his wife was frightened. “The Sheriff took the report, but initiated no action,” he added.
Williams denies stalking Jones’ family members. “Did we harass anyone? No. Would we direct message people that we would like to have news about the city? Absolutely,” he says, adding that messages went to follows of Jones on social media. “If they don’t want to see it, they can block us….We're a newspaper…That is our right. It’s America. At the end of the day,” he contends, “following, posting and speaking truth on social media is called freedom of the press.”
Jones faults Candid Chronicle for not disclosing that Williams is its founder, which he acknowledges is true, and for not disclosing that the Pick Axe company shares a mailing list with Williams and Candid Chronicle. “A bit of a conflict, I’d say, and certainly not transparent,” Jones states, adding, “My experience with Candid Chronicle and Mr. Williams has not been one that makes him a credible witness or source with me.”
That said, Jones also levels criticism at Councilman Arambula and Mayor Vasquez. “I am concerned that David and Racquel put themselves in a situation that led to this level of violence, even if in self defense,” he says. He voiced concern about the meeting being held at Arambula’s home and of Arambula’s claim that he tried to distance himself by taking a swim. “Jumping in the pool is not an action that remedies the situation,” Jones observes. “These kinds of meeting should be kept professional and held in a public place like a restaurant or at city hall.”
He disputed Arambula’s contention that he has held meetings at home due to lack of space at Lemon Grove’s city hall. “The Mayor has her own office, and I’ve never had a problem arranging the conference room when I needed one. All that aside, preventing a bad situation from becoming worse, no one should have left David there alone with Mr. Williams at any time.”
But he adds, “The most concerning thing in all of this is that in at least two separate appeal hearings, David and Raquel both failed to disclose this meeting and Racquel didn’t fully disclose the details of the meeting in closed session when the claim was discussed.” He says failure to remove themselves from the situation and failure to fully inform the Council before votes “was a betrayal of the public trust and that of Council.” He also questioned whether Brown, a Democratic party official, engaged in “attempted influence peddling,” adding, “Had anyone or everyone involved in this incident been Republican, Green, or NPP (no party preference) I would have the same concerns.”
Jones, who has criticized all involved, had actions of his own that led to a claim filed against the city by Marcus Bush, as ECM reported this week. Bush accused Jones of veiled racism in a post on social media. Jones then raised concerns over Bush being employed by a contractor for Lemon Grove, resulting in Bush’s dismissal. Bush, who is black, claimed his free speech rights were violated. The city paid Bush’s attorney $15,000 to settle the case without admitting liability, though Jones and the city manager both sent letters of apology to Bush.
Did the city discriminate against Williams?
Williams told EMC that “I believe I’ve been discriminated against” in the city’s handling of his dispensary applications.
As an example, he forwarded correspondence with city staff about Live Scan Fingerprinting which dispensary applicants must have through the Department of Justice. He says of Lemon Grove staff, “They intentionally misled me, which I believe was to stall my process…Fortunately, the Department of Justice cc’d me on emails to and from the city of Lemon Grove.”
Emails reveal that David Devries with the city’s Development Services Department asked Williams on January 10, 2018 if he wanted to put his application on hold, claiming that the city submitted the Live Scan application to the DOJ on March 21, 2017 and never received a response, which he said normally takes 30 days. He claimed another related application for a Mr. Ghidella also was not responded to and made clear the issued must be resolved before Williams’ zoning clearance application could be found complete. But an email from the DOJ to Williams on that same date confirms that Live Scan records on Williams was sent to Lemon Grove on March 28, 2017 and Ghidella’s records on October 30, 2017, and that Ghidella’s was in the city server; Williams woud have to be fingerprinted again since such data is not saved past 90 days. It further indicated that Lemon Grove at the time had no custodian of records; the former custodian of records, Corinne Russell, would be responsible for printing results and maintaining them in a secure location. The letter also advised that a third application, for Cara Anderson, was rejected.
The city apparently requested a new Live Scan application be submitted. Williams objected to the cost and delay “because someone on your staff misplaced the original copies,” adding, “I spent an enormous amount of money and more importantly time following your rules and requests. Our livescans were submitted directly to Lemon Grove, as the DOJ outlines in their email.” He states that in multiple visits to the city office he was never advised that the city could not access his Live Scan or that the Custodian of record was no longer with the city. “It’s clear from the DOJ, you already received our livescans and you still continue your discrimination on my MMD applications? You continue to block my due process,” Williams wrote in an email sent January 11, 2018 to DeVries with copies to the city maanger and other city staff.
Did the city discriminate against Williams, and if so, why? ECM has asked the city to respond to questions on the Live Scan discrepancies.
Thus far, no dispensaries by any applicant have received final approval from the city, though two have advanced to consideration of a conditional use permit after clearing zoning requirements. The Council had opposed marijuana legalization in the past, but the city’s voters approved a 2016 ballot proposition to legalize medical cannabis dispensaries. Racism, another potential issue, seems less likely given that Mayor Vasquez, like Williams, is also African-American.
Williams believes the assault allegations may have led the city to seek to block his applications.
Another key question is whether Arambula and/or Vasquez should have recused themselves from voting on Williams’ applications, given the physical violence involving Arambula and Williams, and Vasquez’ role as a possible witness to the actions leading up to that incident.
Former Councilmember Mary England has voiced concerns over taxpayers’ dollars “being frittered away over legal fees” and asks, “Why wasn’t the fight disclosed?” She adds, “The culture of this Council, City Attorney and City Manager is not mindful of protecting the finances of the taxpayers they serve. This ongoing misbehavior is embarrassing….What’s needed? No more lawsuits! People who love Lemon Grove and want to serve respectfully!”
On that point, Williams agrees. “Five people have a lot of responsibility up there to do their best to listen to the people who put them in power. The real power is in the people,” he said. Jones calls himself a “straight shooter” and says if his permit is approved, “We’ll keep our promise to the community with safe access and making sure we contribute as we promise…If you are blessed to get your hands on a permit, you should look at it as a responsibility to take seriously.”