Posted: Tuesday, December 5, 2017 – 10:56 AM
Two women went public Monday with sexual harassment allegations against Democratic Assemblyman Matt Dababneh, with one accusing him of forcing her into a bathroom during a party last year and masturbating in front of her.
Dababneh, 36, strongly denied the allegations.
“I affirmatively deny that this event ever happened — at any time,” he said. “I am saddened by this lobbyist’s effort to create this falsehood and make these inflammatory statements, apparently for her own self-promotion and without regard to the reputation of others. I look forward to clearing my name.”
Pamela Lopez, a lobbyist, filed a complaint with the Assembly Rules Committee detailing her accusation, which she said occurred during a January 2016 party in Las Vegas attended by a variety of “political professionals.”
After filing her complaint, Lopez held a news conference Monday in Sacramento alongside another woman, Jessica Yas Barker, who worked under Dababneh when he was a district chief of staff for Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, in 2009-10.
Barker said Dababneh was known for his sexually charged comments in the office and inappropriate conduct.
“It was pretty much an open secret in the San Fernando Valley that this is how Matt behaved,” Barker said. “Unfortunately, it was largely brushed off.
“Just this last weekend, I met a woman who told me that her daughter is interning in Matt’s office,” she said. “All I could think to tell her was to get her out of there as quickly as possible.”
The most damaging accusations, however, came from Lopez, who had previously discussed her allegations but did not name the legislator involved. She went public following a call by the Assembly Rules Committee for alleged victims to come forward and name names.
“There are other women who have been sexually harassed by Matt Dababneh,” Lopez told reporters. “And I can’t have it on my conscious that this may happen again.”
In her complaint letter, Lopez says she and Dababneh both attended an engagement party for mutual friends at a Las Vegas hotel. She said the crowd included political professionals, many of whom she knew.
“When I went to the bathroom after being at the party for a few hours, I felt the weight of a body push me into the restroom,” she wrote. “I heard the door slam behind us. When I turned around, I saw Matt Dababneh. He stood blocking the door and began to masturbate and move toward me, urging me to touch him.
“It was a terrifying experience,” she wrote. “During the time he blocked me in that room, my instincts were focused on escaping without any physical contact and in a way that would not cause a scene. Before the ordeal ended, he told me not to tell anyone.”
Lopez told The Times the encounter lasted less than five minutes.
A friend of Dababneh, Ken Maxey, told The Times he was with the assemblyman at the party for a “majority” of the night, and does not recall him ever using the bathroom. He noted that the layout of the room where the party was held would make it difficult for any such incident to go unnoticed.
Lopez’s business partner, however, told the paper that Lopez told him about the encounter within days of her return to Sacramento after the Las Vegas party. A friend of Lopez’s also told The Times that Lopez described the encounter to her several weeks after the party.
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, said the Assembly Rules Committee will hire an outside law firm to investigate Lopez’s claim. He said Dababneh is stepping down as chairman of the Banking and Finance Committee during the investigation.
“While the investigation moves forward, I am also asking Assembly Human Resources to reach out to Assemblymember Dababneh’s staff to ensure they feel safe in their work environment,” Rendon said.
As it has in Hollywood and across the country, sexual harassment has become a hot topic in Sacramento, with legislative leaders vowing to crack down on misconduct. Last week, Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, D-Pacoima, resigned in response to harassment allegations by a series of women.
Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, was stripped of his legislative leadership positions pending an investigation into harassment allegations.