Jury concluded Arambula acted in self defense following conflicting statements by Williams about whether his dispensary application was discussed and how much he drank.
Missing witness, in a deposition, stated under oath that Arambula had history of wanting to "fight" after drinking, threw a glass against wall, told witness he "beat" Williams and asked witness to destroy photos of plaintiff's injuries. The jury never heard this evidence.
By Jessyka Heredia
Miriam Raftery also contributed to this report
March 6, 2023 (Lemon Grove) -- On Monday, in day three of the Williams vs. Arambula and City of Lemon Grove civil trial, David Arambula and the City of Lemon Grove were both found not liable by a jury in the assault and battery case filed by Christopher Williams.
The case centered around an evening in July 2017 at Arambula’s home, which ended in violence. A mutual acquaintance, Taisha Brown, set up the meeting, which Williams said was to discuss his pending marijuana dispensary application but which Arambula said he believed was to discuss bringing new business investment to the city. Williams claimed they discussed the dispensary and that Arambula pushed him to bring in a partner, but he refused. Arambula denied those claims. After others left, Williams returned for his cell phone and contended that he was assaulted unprovoked by Arambula, resulting in hospitalization for injuries. Arambula claimed Williams attacked him first and that he acted in self defense.
Judge Meyer gave detailed instructions and told the jury that the plaintiff was the one who needed to present the burden of proof at trial. The jury was given 18 total items on a check list such as whether Arambula acted to cause harm or offensive contact, did Arambula use only the amount of force that was reasonably necessary to protect himself, was the City liable and would there be damages awarded to the plaintiff.
PLAINTIFFS CLOSING ARGUMENTS:
In closing arguments, Williams’ attorney, Cory Briggs, went first. He noted that some facts were not disputed, such as Lemon Grove having a small city hall and encouraging Councilmembers to meet elsewhere with anyone who might bring revenues into the city.
Arambula had claimed Williams punched him repeatedly, but Briggs pointed out that Williams had no visible injuries, bruises or cuts to his hands. Briggs showed photos of Williams with a gash over his eye and ear that needed stitches, but which the defense gave no explanation for. Briggs said the cut was consistent with Williams’ testimony that he was hit on his head with a champagne bottle.
Briggs stated that at the time of the incident, Williams was 135 pounds and that Arambula was 200-205 pounds. He disputed Arambula’s claim of how much Williams drank (five 10-ounce tumblers), adding, “That’s a Big Gulp Can you imagine 50 ounces in four hours? He would be unconscious or dead.”
Briggs mentioned Arambula's testimony about Williams grabbing him by the lapel of his t-shirt and that t-shirts don’t have lapels. This was later rebutted by Arambula's team saying, “it was a Polo shirt and Polo shirts have collars, lapels”.
Briggs asked the Jury if it was believable that his client would attack an elected official “if he was looking for votes in four days?” referring to an appeal of his dispensary application denial coming before the City Council the following week. Briggs said bie marks inflicted by Arambula on Williams’ arms don’t line up with the testimony that Arambula was in a chokehold, since they were on Williams’ outer arm, not inner arm. He noted that Williams “injuries were so severe that the hospital insisted” on callingl the Sheriff.
As for the why this meeting was at the house, Briggs states that because of Arambula’s role and the fact that he had no office at City Hall combined with “being challenged to help the city raise money,” and that CIty Manager Lydia Romero told Councilmembers to “meet anywhere and everywhere.” Briggs said Arambula held meetings at his home two or three times before this incident. In Arambula’s testimony the week before he was asked if he “knew they would discuss city business” and Arambula replied, “Yes, to invest in the city.” Briggs argued this was a business meeting, regardless of whether Arambula intended to discuss dispensary applications.
Briggs admitted to making mistakes in forms he filled out that ultimately contradicted Williams’ testimony but said it didn’t change the story. He claimed it was “a political shakedown one way or another” if Arambula solicited campaign donations or pushed Williams to take on a partner, actions that Williams’ alleged but Arambula denied.
Briggs questioned why the Sheriff’s department never questioned Mayor Racquel Vasquez, who was at Arambula’s home for most of the evening but left before the violence occurred. He asked why the Sheriff Department not giving Mr. Williams a copy of the report and that his client saw it for the first time on the stand. Briggs noted that “the Sheriff department is under the same roof as City Hall” and mentioned that the Deputy Sheriffs Assocation backed Arambula's campaign.
Williams’ attorney noted discrepancies in Arambula’s descriptions of how many drinks he had. Arambula claimed he drank only wine, while WIlliams said Arambula drank rum. The Mayor testified that Arambula did not have a wine glass, but Taisha Brown did.
Arambula under oath stated that he did not know Taisha Brown was videotaping him in the pool but during deposition, Arambula said he asked her to stop recording and get him a towel. Williams said Arambula was naked in the pool, which Arambula denied, through in Brown’s deposition she said Arambula took off all his clothes. Brown did not testify before the jury and the video was not shown, nor was her deposition testimony admitted.
Also under scrutiny was Arambula’s claim that Williams was "grinding” the Mayor while dancing; on the stand Vasquez “flatly denied it” (but did state she felt uncomfortable).
Briggs questioned why Arambula didn't calll the Sheriff, if he'd been attacked in his own home.
Briggs ends his closing arguments by saying, that it was unbelievable that a “businessman trying to expand would go to a meeting, get wasted, sexually assault the mayor and try to kill a councilmember”, which he indicated was the defenses narrative. Briggs said if his client was “drunk, violent and physically taken to the street, why were the cops not called?” Briggs then questioned why the Mayor said on the stand that she didn’t want to discuss the dispensaries because she would have to recuse herself yet did not recuse herself from later voting on Williams’ dispensary applications in the future; Arambula also failed to recuse after the violent altercation with the applicant. Briggs also questioned why the City Manager, according to the Mayor, refused to speak with her about the incident. He suggested Arambula “embellished” facts and suggested the city was covering up misconduct.
Briggs told the jury when considering awarding damages, to “use your judgement, imagine not being able to spend time with your kids and after three years, still being hassled by the city.”
DEFENSE CLOSING ARGUMENTS:
Arambula's defense lawyer, Kathryn Lee-Colgan, leveled harsh criticism of Williams, calling his account of the evening “an outright fabrication.” She brought up Williams’ political run for Mayor in 2020, stating Williams was “talking to media, and social media” (though Arambula also spoke to press) putting a “dramatic spin to anyone who ever gave him the time of day.” She said Williams has disparaged Arambula's name and reputation.
The defense admitted that Arambula had made “an error in judgement, a bad choice” saying that Arambula “didn't vet” Williams before allowing him to visit his home, but should have.” The defense insisted there were marks and bruises on her client, yet the plaintiff claimed he only had Arambula in a chokehold.
Lee-Colgan insisted that Arambula couldn’t talk about the dispensary and that he “shut Williams down “not once, not twice but three times that evening." Williams' claim filed with the City prior to the lawsuit stated that Arambula didn't discuss the dispensary, but later Williams said this was incorrect and said it was discussed at length. Briggs called these "draft errors" on his part, but the attorney for Arambula stated these were "completely different facts, not punctuation errors.” She pointed out that versions varied between Williams’ statement to police, his deposition and testimony in court, with a police report stating that Williams said the meeting was “only 15 minutes and it was more about campaign funds" than the dispensary, though later he said there was an extended discussion on the dispensary.
The defense said that the Mayor had no dog in the fight, a claim later disputed by Briggs in his rebuttal to the jury saying the Mayor “has skin in this game” and didn’t want the City to be held responsible.
Arambula’s attorney reminded the jury that the Mayor testified that Williams was “sexually aggressive” and that this was unwanted attention and inappropriate. Lee-Colgan pointed out that only Williams (of those who testified in court) claimed there was a glass thrown by Arambula at a wall. (In Brown’s deposition, however, she stated that Arambula did throw a glass at a wall above a fish tank.)
Arambula’s attorney asks what is reasonable to believe. She said Williams had "various versions” and that her client's testimony about the “fight” has not changed once over the last six years. Both Arambula and Williams, however, did change some elements of their testimony, which varied among depositions, a police report and testimony.
The defense claimed Arambula used “reasonable force to stop and get him [Williams] out of the home” and asked the jury if it was reasonable to believe that if Williams was scared that Arambula would come after him, would Williams show up at a City Council meeting four days later? (Williams has said he had to be there to speak, because his dispensary appeal was on the agenda.)
Lee-Colgan claimed Williams is an “opportunist” who used Brown to set up a meeting to talk to the mayor and all of this was “to get his name in the public eye” and that his motivation was to run for mayor.
Arambula’s lawyer reminded the jury that the plaintiff, Williams, has to provide the burden of proof in this case, not Arambula, and that the plaintiff “can call all kinds of witnesses to help validate claims...Why only call two witnesses?” She pointed out that Taisha Brown was not called to the stand and no doctor testifed, either. Briggs later in rebuttal said that “in a perfect world she (Brown) would have been here. Sometimes people can't be here” and that sometimes there is video and sometimes there is not."
As for other missing witnesses, Briggs said Williams was uninsured and could not afford to pay doctors’ witness fees. Lee-Colgan contended that jurors could not award damages for future or past injuries because there wa no expert testimony.
The defense wrapped up its closing argument by telling the jury that a few weeks after the incident, Williams was seen in posts on social media at a bar, that Williams posted suggesting he went for a jog 75 days later and that shortly after that he was at a golfing event. She also noted that no criminal charges were filed against her client, Arambula.
The defense attorney insisted that “the plaintiff is not telling the truth” She said if any damages were awarded for pain and suffering, it should be $10,000 max but she concluded, “Self-defense is a full defense.”
CITY’S CLOSING ARGUMENTS:
Kimberly Oberrecht, the defense attorney for the City of Lemon Grove, told the jury this case is “not about the City,” or whether the city should change its policies about meetings, or if the Mayor did anything wrong. The jury should focus only of Arambula, as an individual, did anything wrong, adding that the City wrong”. Oberrecht continues with or “if Arambula should be punished.” She explained that the City can't discipline an elected official and that Arambula and the Mayor are not employees.
As for Arambula, Oberrecht stated, “Did his conduct arise from or was it directly related to his official conduct as an elected official? The answer is absolutely no. She said Arambula's version is “more consistent and more believable” than William’s. The city’s lawyer insisted the evening was not an official meeting, but rather to introduce a businessman that wanted to invest in the city.
The city’s defense lawyer claimed that when Brown set up the meeting, Arambula agreed to be nice to her, since she was a party official and that he didn’t know she was trying to “sneak" someone in who wanted to discuss an item on the upcoming agenda. She cited text messages from Williams to Brown saying, “Just let me know when and where for a drink with David” and contended this showed the get-together was social and not business.
Oberrecht noted the evening included a BBQ with swimming (by Arambula), drinking and dancing—not official business. She aded that “whatever meeting was intended was well over by midnight.. She characterized the physical altercation between Arambula and Williams as “personal” and not city business.
The Mayor was simply there to get to know her new Council colleague, Arambula, and not to discuss medical marijuana dispensaries, Oberrecht told jurors. She said the mayor stopped by and later left because it was “not her scene", convincing her friend, Taisha Brown, to leave as well.
Oberrecht concluded, “The City should not be held liable for what happened that evening.”
Briggs had the last word. He continued to poke holes in the defense’s claim that Williams had “political motivation to file suit” because of his run for mayor in 2020 and that that just “doesn't make sense.. Briggs said his client did not think “I should go get beaten by a Marine” to use that and run for public office. “That doesn’t make sense.”
Briggs said that attorneys for both Arambula and the City “don’t want to talk about the cut and blood above my client's ear...It didn’t magically appear.” The only explanation is that he was hit over the head with a bottle by Arambula, said Briggs.
Regarding discrepancies in Williams’ memory of some details, Williams’ attorney noted that people with head injuries can have memory lapses.
Briggs says, “as for silent witnesses, doctors “expect to get paid” and that his client doesn’t have insurance. “He didn’t have the money”. As for why Brown wasn’t present to testify, he said, “In a perfect world she would have been here, but sometimes a witness can't be here to testify.”
Briggs questioned why the City didn’t play the recording from the City Council meeting if it would dispute Williams claim of statements made in the meeting by Arambula.
As for Williams’ motivation to run for mayor, Briggs explained, “If a government official has tried to kill you, then tried to turn the tables and say you were some kind of deviant and attempted murderer, you'd want to clean up the city.”
Briggs explained to the jury that his client was not seeking damages for medical bills, only pain and suffering. The most important thing is not the money. It's to get his day in court” he said, adding that Wiliams wants “to have members of the community hear the truth.” He added,“If the city or Mr. Arambula had taken responsibility, we wouldn’t need this.”
Briggs disputed that the Mayor had no dog in the fight, saying, that defies common sense. The mayor is head of the City, that “she is in charge of the budget” and “the City is desperate to raise funds,” he noted.
Briggs insisted the evening wasn’t set up as a drinking party. He recalled that Arambula testified he was encouraged to meet “anywhere, and everywhere” to bring new business to the city. “That’s what this meeting was about--, new business my client was trying to get approved.”
Williams’ attorney concluded his rebuttal by asking jurors, “Does common sense tell you that politicians lie to protect themselves from being held accountable?”
THE MISSING WITNESS
Had the jury heard Taisha Brown testify, whom Briggs indicated was unavailable, might her words have swayed jurors' opinions?
In her deposition, Brown stated that she had previously seen Arambula intoxicated and that "when he drinks, he tends to get really upset and sometimes he'll cry. Sometimes he'll want to fight." She described him on the night in question as "rambling...upset and frustrated." She confirmed seeing Arambula throw a drink at a wall and said he did jump naked into the pool. Brown, in the deposition that jurors never heard about, stated that after the violent altercation, Arambula called her and said, "You need to come get your boy, I f***ked him up, or "something to that effect" and later told her he "beat my boy's ass." She also said Arambula, told her to destroy evidence. She said Arambula told her to "get rid of those f***king pictures of Chris's face" off her phone because "a lawsuit was coming forward..."
Brown also said in her deposition that she was afraid Arambula might come after her and harm her, because of incidents she'd heard about involving another female (possibly a former coworker who obtained a temporary restraining order against Arambula that a judge did not make permanent). Brown also said she feared Arambula because he talked about "being a Navy Seal and his ability to hurt people."
Brown's deposition did also conflict with some statements by both Williams and Arambula. The County Democratic Party's Vice Chair said she set up the meeting to discuss a PAC that could benefit Lemon Grove organizations, with Williams' business ventures potentially participating. Brown said it was Arambula, not Williams, who was drinking rum. She thought Arambula was intoxicated and that Williams might have been intoxicated, as he was "loud and laughing" but that Williams seemed capable of driving himself home. She recalled Arambula mentioning a binder (with Council agenda and papers) and heard him discuss the dispensary with Williams could not recall any details.
She said the Mayor did not discuss the dispensary with Williams, that Williams danced around a chair the Mayor was in, but Brown did not believe he acted inappropriately toward the Mayor.
Brown said the Mayor told her that Arambula's phone seemed to have Face-Timed the Mayor during the altercation and that the Mayor observed a "scuffle," yet oddly, this was not mentioned in testimony by either side to confirm or refute whether the Mayor might have witnessed a portion of the violence that occurred.
With no witnesses testifying about the actual violence other than Arambula and Williams, the jurors were left to determine whose version of events seemed more likely than not, along with considering with earlier events as described by the Mayor, and statements on the aftermath from fiancees of both Williams and Arambula..
Jurors found that Arambula did assault and batter Williams, but that he acted in self self-defense. No damages were awarded.
After the courtroom let out, attorneys for Arambula and the City of Lemon Grove declined ECM's request for comment.
Williams' attorney, Briggs, told ECM, “We respect the jury's verdict. But the verdict doesn’t change the truth.”
View our full coverage of the trial:
The Real Truth
Great reporting on the Arambula trial
Miriam has met all the key players. Terrific. That's not a conflict of interest; that's called doing your job!
This is not accurate.
I do not have a "personal relationship" with Williams or any parties in this case. He attended a couple of ECM events, as have many other elected officials including other Councilmembers. I am not the only writer on this story; both of us spent three days taking detailed notes during the 3-day trial and have done our best to thoroughly and accurately describe the arguments and evidence presented on all sides.
I had not heard of threats by Williams against you, Jerry, and would not approve of anyone threatening public officials or anybody else, of course.
That said, only Mr. Willliams and Mr. Arambula know what really transpired at the end of the evening.