California Lawmaker Arrested for Spanking 7-Year-Old Daughter Who He Says 'Acted Out'

Dr. Joaquin Arambula, a democratic state assemblyman who represents Fresno, was arrested for willful cruelty of a child.

A California lawmaker arrested for spanking his 7-year-old daughter says he's embarrassed, but claims the incident was blown out of proportion.

Dr. Joaquin Arambula, a democratic state assemblyman who represents Fresno, was home with his family Sunday when he said his daughter began “acting out.”

“I had a daughter who was acting out and I disciplined her, I'm embarrassed to say,” Arambula, a former emergency room doctor, told KSEE Wednesday. He and his wife, Elizabeth, sat down for the interview two days after his arrest for willful cruelty of a child.

“It’s not something we routinely do, but I did spank her on her bottom,” he continued.  “It's rarely something that we ever get to, and yet, it is a part of discipline that we have."

The next day, he dropped her off at school, where administrators noticed an injury on her body and called Child Protective Services, authorities told CBS News.

"I didn't see any marks before she went to school. I was not aware of that,” Arambula told KSEE.

Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said other evidence led to Arambula's arrest.

"The injury in this case is not on the buttocks," Dyer told CBS News.

Arambula’s three daughters were removed from the home by Child Protective Services and he was arrested, but the girls were returned to their parents after 48 hours. 

“I love my daughters, I really do, and they mean the world to me” Arambula said, adding he will go to family counseling to learn how to better communicate.

It was a step approved of by family counselor and parenting expert Alyson Schafer. She was not involved in Arambula’s case but told spanking should be recognized as an act of violence and not as a disciplinary tool.

“I don’t think that striking a child is ever appropriate,” Schafer said. “Using the language ‘spanking’ rather than ‘hitting’ is something that gives some people psychological comfort.”

Spanking your child is legal in all 50 states, but if it crosses the line into "cruelty" or "abuse," it becomes a crime. 

Schafer disagrees, saying it should be outlawed entirely. 

"It's assault," she said. "It's hitting. It's not okay."

She called the practice ageist and said it should be looked at with the same deference afforded to any other unwanted, aggressive physical contact.

“If you hit someone on the street, that’s assault,” she said. “If you hit your wife, that’s domestic abuse. It’s never okay to hit another human being. There’s many ways to discipline a child that does not require corporal punishment."

Studies show that children who undergo corporal punishment are at an increased likelihood to repeat such aggressive behavior, Schafer said. Their relationships with the parent who meted out the punishments also often suffer as a result, as do their self-esteem, she continued.

“There’s a huge cost to be paid,” she said. “It’s never okay to go to violence; I certainly understand how situations unfold, but that doesn’t mean it’s justified.”

Proponents for spanking often point to their own upbringings and accomplishments in life as an indicator to the practice’s effectiveness, but the argument is flawed, Schafer said.

“How much more might you had been, had you not had that experience?” she said. “Maybe your potential was stunted. It’s a fallacious argument.

“Most people looking around at kids today, (they say), ‘kids today are out of control’ … that this is a function of having told people ‘don’t yell, don’t hit,” Schafer continued.” I get that there’s a discipline problem happening. The answer is not to go back to the old way.”

One example of an alternative disciplinary technique is the use of natural and logical consequences, she said. 

“Creating a consequence; if you can’t use your table manners, then you’re excused from the table. You can’t be in this room if you’re unable to stop jumping on the couch. I can’t make you wash your hands, but it’s a requirement to come to the dinner table,” she said. “There are more effective ways … that are not part of the culture tradition.”

Arambula is due in court in March.