CRITICISM MOUNTS OF ARAMBULA AND LEMON GROVE LEADERS AFTER DISCLOSURE OF ASSAULT CLAIM BY DISPENSARY ADVOCATE

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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.”

Sheriff reports

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.”

Comments

Cara Anderson, Editor of Candid Chronicle

As the editor of Candid Chronicle, I can assure that the publication has never been critical of Arambula as far as expressing negative sentiments. I am the only CC writer who has mentioned Arambula in our publication. While I am glad to utilize critical thinking on a daily basis, I have not included a single analysis of or personal thought about the councilman in my reports. I commend Jerry Jones for sharing his beliefs on how Arambula and Vasquez handled the assault. I've reviewed the Instagram direct message that Jones references as containing "nasty comments" about him. The only messages made about Jones by @candidchronicle were that he is a "decent guy", and "a very intelligent man." I withhold personal opinion from my reports, however, I'd like to also express my personal opinions, which are not to represent the Candid Chronicle or other members of the publication. My personal beliefs are below... I believe that Jones' statement that his wife was frightened (by the Instagram messages) is glib. I'm sorry if the messages made Mrs. Jones uncomfortable. I simply found it a callous statement when I consider what Kathleen McLean has gone through. I ask that Jones imagine how frightening it is for Kathleen McLean to go about her daily life. McLean's husband was assaulted by someone who is in a position of power. I imagine that is truly frightening. Furthermore, Williams is a black man. I'm not insisting that Arambula's motives were based on race, however, I think we should consider how black people have historically been treated in the US. I imagine that if my significant other were a black man who was assaulted by a gov't official who was backed by the sheriff's department, I would truly be terrified. I imagine that if my husband were assaulted by someone who's allegedly threatened violence against other people, I would be frightened. I ask that anyone reading this considers that race can't be left out of the discussion. I believe it's unfounded to assert that racism is simply a "potential issue" and "less likely" because the Mayor is a black woman. The mayor's presence in Lemon Grove does not negate the potentiality of Williams being discriminated against for being a black man. If a black man believes he has been discriminated against because of race, I do not second guess that. As a white person, Miriam, I believe it's imperative to acknowledge that you have never felt racism, and are not in a position to judge when/where racism exists or does not exist. As far as transparency goes, it has never been a secret that Chris Williams is one of the original founders of Candid Chronicle. To my knowledge, Williams has even handed out his business card in the Lemon Grove office. I have never denied or hidden that Williams is a founder. As the editor of Candid Chronicle for over a year, I apologize to anyone who felt misled, but that was not the intention. I am a 25-year-old woman who is running many facets of a news publication. I am not a seasoned journalist or editor but I appreciate any constructive criticism which aids me in continuing to provide the best coverage possible!

To Be Clear

First let me say that I have no personal issue with medical marijuana or it's medicinal value. Everything concerning the process of placing dispensaries in Lemon Grove have been purely a land use issue for me. My opposition to measure V came from the community's vote in 2012 when Council put our own measure supporting MMD (medical marijuana dispensaries) on the ballot. The citizen's initiative and council's initiative both failed. I personally worked with staff on the measure language, wrote the ballot argument in favor and put my name to it. The community said no and I felt obligated to retain that position in 2016. Once again, my only position since has been a land use issue. A portion of the dispensary industry, including Mr. Williams, seems insensitive to the communities concerns on placement. They even gathered signatures to remove small day care facilities from the sensitive area list. As I've stated before it's the cash nature of this business and it's attraction for a criminal element that makes the day care issue critical. With regard to permits, any business that has the potential to impact the community in a significant way lends itself to the CUP (conditional use permit) process. This process was very over used in the city's past and I've worked hard to limit it's use in my time. It's a long and complicated and often expensive process. It does have it's place and it's application for the placement of MMDs is appropriate. Every dispensary and every business requiring a CUP is treated the same. After hearing complaints about the process applied to MMDs I sat with staff to review the process. Yes I questioned some of the requirements and was assured that they were either applied to every CUP applicant or was (or would be) a requirement of the State. I found no compelling reason to doubt the process as it is applied here. Keep in mind that we are dealing with a drug here. This is an area that the State normally regulates. In this case much of that oversight has been regulated to the land use process of city's and county's who lack much of the resources and expertise the State has available to them. We have to move cautiously because whatever we end up with we are stuck with. Keep in mind also that La Mesa started their process before us and are only now issuing their first permits. Finally, I had no idea who Mr. Williams was or the events of the July meeting when his first application was presented to Council in August. When his second application was presented in September I was the one that first spoke in favor of a distance variance based on a cumulative separation of the natural and constructed barriers described in the law. That was an interpretation of the ordinance that would not have happened had I had anything other than honorable intentions with regard to implementing the will of the voters and a personal drive to deal with everyone fairly. Jerry Jones

Concerned

Sounds like an investigation is majorly in order. So sad that poor man had to get hurt for this to come to light. Makes me wonder what else has gone down that’s been swept under the rug. When the government gets involved in cover ups and fishy business... I put my foot down. Is this really who we want in office? I know how I’ll be voting, that’s for sure. Also as an aside on credibility. What’s with all of typos & leaving out of proper quotation. Do you bother proofreading? Don’t know what candid chronicle is but sounds more like a weed thing so who really cares if it’s owned by the dispensary guy. What concerns me is this “unbiased” magazine’s inability to slow down before rushing an article to release.

typos

Rereading this I found one apostrophe omitted and one single quotation mark accidentally deleted off the start of one quote in the editing process. These have been fixed. If there is something else that I missed please email me.

This was not rushed to print.  It was gone over several times and held up for several days to fact-check and collect documents that we reviewed, with many updates and additions to the original draft. I apologize for the two  typos. My eyesight isn't as sharp as it used to be.

We try hard but if readers spot a typo we missed, please be specific about what the typo is, and notify editor@eastcountymagazine.org.  I fail to see why you're suggesting we're somehow biased because of a typo or two.  I spent about an hour on the phone for Mr. Williams for this story, and previously with Mr. Arambula when he responded to Williams' original claim, which we covered in a prior story. We've given each man's version in detail, also seeking reactions from others on the council. We have not taken sides either way; that will be up to a court to sort out, if this goes that far.

If anyone has information they believe should come to light on any aspects of this story, we'd be very interested in hearing from people with facts that may shed light on the issues raised here.