Fact or fiction: Defense says Assemblyman's daughter told story from a book

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A CPS investigation took center stage Wednesday in the misdemeanor child abuse trial against state Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula.

"She said she was afraid to be home with her father when her mother was not there," CPS worker Amber Fithian said of the girl's statements to her.

Two days after separating the kids from their parents, CPS returned them after what they call a "team meeting" involving the parents, the grandparents, and other people who take care of the Arambulas' three girls.

And CPS officers heard something for the first time at that meeting.

When the 7-year-old girl showed her bruise to teachers and workers at her school, they called CPS.

And for at least the third time, the girl told a story about how her father hurt her after she had a dispute with her 6-year-old sister and the little girl screamed.

This time she told it to a CPS emergency services worker.

"He grabbed her and held her," Fithian said. "Held her on the bed, put her down on the bed. It was difficult for her to breathe and she was crying. She was trying to explain to him and he was squeezing her cheeks so she couldn't explain to him. Then he slapped her on the sides of her face. Then fell on the toy as he was trying to get up from the bed."

The CPS worker called the police to the school but carried out her own independent investigation.

CPS initially took the three Arambula sisters out of their parents' home, but let them go back a couple of days later after meeting with the extended family.

They suggested counseling but decided the home was safe.

And at the meeting -- for the first time -- they heard the girl sometimes hurt herself. Family members, a nanny, and the alleged victim mentioned it. The girl said she once hit herself in the head with a book.

CPS returned the girls but concluded their investigation with a partial decision.

"As to general neglect on the part of Elizabeth Arambula it was unfounded and as to physical abuse on the part of Joaquin Arambula, it was inconclusive," Fithian said.

The police investigation continued, though, and led to the misdemeanor charge.

But the state Assembly member's defense team says her story sounds a lot like fiction, specifically a fictional story that made $87 million at the box office.

The 7-year-old came to school in December with a bruise hidden behind her hair.

She eventually told an office worker, a teacher, and a CPS worker the same story about how she got the injury.

"She disclosed that her dad had slapped her on each side of her face with his open hands," Fithian said.

The CPS worker called the police and the girl explained the injury the same way: She had a dispute with her 6-year-old sister, the younger girl screamed, and then her dad came in the room.

She explained it again when her mother came, even as a police officer says her mom tried to soothe her and tell her dad didn't hurt her, he was just mad about her throwing toys.

"(The girl) said I did throw the toy and I was sorry for that but dad also hit me and it hurt," said Fresno police officer Lawrence Missel.

But Arambula's defense team points out the girl is a great student -- a second grader who writes fiction for fun.

And her second-grade class read The Tale of Despereaux earlier this year.

It features a character named Miggery Sow and attorney Michael Aed noted some potential similarities between the alleged victim and the fictional Miggery.

"Miggery was a bit jealous of the princess?" Aed asked the teacher.

"Correct," said the teacher. "She wanted to be the princess."

"And Miggery Sow had been hit about the ears in the novel or the story?" Aed asked.

The girl's teacher confirmed the story detail, but she says the 7-year-old told her the same thing happened once before the December incident. The girl had never mentioned any violence before.

She says on that December day, the girl also said her dad gouged her hand while trying to remove a splinter, but she didn't see anything.

The girl was upset that morning. This week, she showed signs of emotional issues after testifying.

"On certain days, like Monday for instance after last Friday, she seemed kind of sad and withdrawn a little bit," the teacher said. "But then yesterday when she came back to school and she was very happy, and you know, like her normal self."

The case should wrap up next week, but not before Dr. Arambula testifies in his own defense.
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