Update February 13, 2019: Judge Whitney has issued a final ruling keeping the City of Lemon Grove as a defendant in this case.
By Miriam Raftery
February 11, 2019 (Lemon Grove) – A witness has disputed a key claim made by Lemon Grove Councilman David Arambula in a civil suit filed by marijuana dispensary applicant Christopher Williams against Arambula and Lemon Grove. Williams alleges that he Arambula cut his face with a beer bottle, bit, choked and punched him after a meeting at Arambula’s home regarding the dispensary application.
In an interview in March 2018 with East County Magazine, Arambula said he didn’t know that Williams wanted to talk about a dispensary application. He claimed he met with Williams at the request of Taisha Brown, a political operative, because “he wanted to invest in Lemon Grove” and that Arambula wanted to learn about potential economic development. Arambula further stated that when he learned during the meeting that Williams wanted to discuss opening dispensaries, “I told him it’s improper to discuss that with him…I told him to go through the process and applications” then asked Williams to leave.
But in a tentative ruling denying the city of Lemon Grove’s request for summary judgment or summary adjudication, Judge Richard S. Whitney writes, “Taisha Brown, a member of a local political organization, declares that she spoke to Mr. Arambula, on behalf of Plaintiff, to set up a meeting with Plaintiff and Mr. Arambula to discuss cannabis dispensaries,” citing a declaration by Brown. The judge adds, “Ms. Brown declares that after she and Plaintiff arrived at Mr. Arambula’s home, she heard Plaintiff and Mr. Arambula discussing Plaintiff’s applications for medical-marijuana dispensaries. Mr. Arambula showed Plaintiff a briefing booklet that he had received for the upcoming City Council meeting.” At some point, Mayor Racquel Vasquez was also present, though both Vasquez and Brown were reportedly gone before the physical altercation.
The judge’s tentative ruling denied the city’s request to be excluded from the suit. The city argued that any meeting ended at 8 p.m. and that all events thereafter were part of a “social event,” the judge states, noting that the city’s argument was based on Arambula’s statement. But Brown has declared the meeting continued past 8 p.m. As a result, the judge reasoned, “there is a question of fact as to whether the incident was an outgrowth of Mr. Arambula’s scope of employment as a member of the City Council.”
What happened later in the evening is in dispute. Arambula and Williams each claim the other was drinking heavily. Arambula went for a swim in his pool and says that after the two women left, Williams grabbed his shirt and told him he needed to do as asked. Williams contends he was assaulted unprovoked by Arambula, a former Marine, according to his Facebook profile.
Arambula does not deny inflicting the injuries suffered by Williams, who was treated at a hospital, but claims he acted in self defense. In his interview with ECM, however, Arambula denied striking Williams with a bottle. But Kim Oberrecht, an attorney hired by Lemon Grove, stated, “Hitting someone upside the head with a bottle is startling, shocking and unusual and cannot be tied to any city activity but (rather) a social gathering at his home at midnight,” the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
Arambula told ECM that he often met with people at his home on city business. The judge, in his tentative ruling, affirmed that “It is undisputed that Mr. Arambula held official city business meetings at his home on multiple occasions, with Mayor Vasquez’s knowledge. Further, other members of the City Council also conducted official City business at locations beyond City Hall.”
An earlier claim filed by Williams against the city seeking medical expenses and punitive damages was denied, so Williams subsequently filed a civil lawsuit. He also claims the city has acted in a retaliatory manner against his applications, which the city denies.
The judge is expected to issue a final ruling in the next week on whether or not the City of Lemon Grove will be included or dropped from the suit.
At stake in the outcome of the lawsuit are taxpayer dollars and the political futures of at least two politicians in Lemon Grove.
A San Diego Union-Tribune editorial published last March, after Williams first filed a claim against the city, criticized Arambula and Vasquez for their actions in the wake of the altercation. The newspaper editorial board called it “inconceivable that Arambula didn’t disclose this matter before Williams’ complaint to the city made it public,” despite Williams having dispensary applications pending. “If Vasquez knew of the fight but also kept quiet, that’s also unacceptable,” the editorial concluded.
View East County Magazine’s prior coverage: