A woman was arrested Friday on charges including assault after dropping what authorities said “appeared to be blood” on members of the California Senate from her seat in the visitor gallery. The disturbance occurred as lawmakers were wrapping up their work before adjourning for the year, forcing them to evacuate the chamber to continue in a nearby committee hearing room.
The woman, who was identified by California Highway Patrol officials as Rebecca Dalelio, 43, was among dozens of protesters who were inside the state Capitol to oppose a pair of bills signed Monday by Gov. Gavin Newsom to impose new oversight of childhood vaccine exemptions. Public records show Dalelio is a resident of Boulder Creek near Santa Cruz, and a Facebook profile matching her photo and name contains multiple postings critical of vaccines, the last one made in March. A phone call to Dalelio seeking comment was not returned.
Authorities roped off the Senate chamber with caution tape Friday evening as CHP and Senate officers began an investigation. The CHP later said in a statement that the blood-like substance was contained in “a feminine hygiene device” reported to be a menstrual cup held by the woman, who was arrested and booked into Sacramento County Jail on six charges including assault, vandalism and disorderly conduct. Dalelio was released Saturday morning.
“A crime was committed today, but the Senate will not be deterred from conducting the people’s business,” Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) said as she stood at the front of the committee hearing room when the proceedings resumed in the new location.
Senators were asked to sit in audience seats inside the large committee hearing room, with members of the media moved to an upstairs balcony to view the final votes before adjournment. It was the first time the Senate has been forced to convene in a different room since a big-rig truck crashed into the statehouse in 2001, leaving portions of the 19th century building damaged.
Tensions have been high at the Capitol over the last few weeks as legislators weighed the contentious legislation. Protesters have packed the hallways and disrupted hearings and floor sessions in the Legislature. A group of opponents of the bill have stood and chanted outside Newsom’s office.
State Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), who authored the legislation, was confronted last month by an anti-vaccine activist and shoved on the street near the Capitol.
The Senate allowed several protesters into the gallery on Friday who held up signs including one that said “Medical Freedom.” Other opponents of the bill sat silently in the balcony with fists raised in protest for more than an hour before the incident.
Shortly after 5 p.m., as the Senate was voting on a bill related to sexual harassment, a woman leaned over the balcony and dropped the liquid on unsuspecting senators standing below. Someone shouted, “This is for dead babies.” Atkins called an immediate break for a caucus meeting, and senators headed to a conference room off the floor. Some left the Capitol and went back to their Sacramento homes to shower.
Senate Minority Leader Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) apologized to lawmakers as she stood next to Atkins as the session resumed in the committee hearing room. She said a suspect was in CHP custody and should be “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The Senate was disrupted earlier today by a violent protester.— Senator Shannon Grove (@ShannonGroveCA) September 14, 2019
Voicing opinions are important parts of the democratic process, but violence will not be condoned or tolerated.
The Senate will not be prevented from conducting business and we are back in session. #CaLeg pic.twitter.com/Avybhub3rZ
Pan said the liquid splashed on his back and desk. He said other senators were hit on the head with the liquid.
“Everyone is pretty disturbed and upset,” he said. “It’s like we’ve been saying, violent rhetoric turns to violent acts. This is a direct attack on the democratic process and this should be condemned by everyone. This needs to stop.”
The new laws, Senate Bills 276 and 714, would create state oversight of medical exemptions for vaccines required to attend public and private schools, as well as day care centers.
California already has some of the nation’s tightest childhood immunization laws, allowing doctors to excuse children, temporarily or permanently, from some or all vaccinations if there is a medical reason.
Opponents had hoped Newsom would loosen guidelines or veto the bills. His signature inspired outrage among anti-vaccine activists, who traveled to Sacramento from cities across the state to join the protests.
Legislative leaders had warned lawmakers and Capitol staff members to anticipate the potential for large crowds arriving Friday.
“This is an outrageous way of trying to protest or make a point,” said state Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), who was seated at his desk on the floor when liquid fell on unsuspecting legislators.
A statement from the CHP late Friday said officers have sought to ensure protesters can “exercise their First Amendment rights while not interfering with the daily operations of the State Capitol or the safety of the occupants on state property.”
Some activists were frustrated by Friday’s events, saying they shouldn’t all be held responsible for the actions of one person.
“It’s unfair to the respectable majority in the medical freedom movement to always have to claim those who resort to illegal actions; it would be the equivalent of us saying all senators are child abusers or alcoholics because their colleagues were arrested for it,” said Melissa Floyd of Immunity Education, which opposes vaccine mandate bills.
Nathan Click, a spokesman for Newsom, called the act “despicable.”
“All of us in the governor’s office strongly condemn this act and the disruption it has caused,” Click said.
Times staff writer John Myers contributed to this report.