By: Luis Ferre-Sadurni and Ashley Southall
A New York state senator was arrested in the Bronx on Tuesday on a charge that he choked his estranged wife during a fight over the weekend, the police said.
The senator, Luis R. Sepúlveda, 56, turned himself in to police at about 11 a.m. at the 48th Precinct station in Claremont to face a charge of criminal obstruction of breathing, a misdemeanor, the police said.
His wife called 911 on Saturday around 6 a.m. after an argument with her husband escalated to a physical fight inside their Daly Avenue apartment in West Farms, the police said.
When officers arrived, the husband and wife both claimed the other had assaulted them. Mr. Sepulveda said his wife had punched him in the face, and she told the police that he had put his hands around her neck and choked her, the police said.
Police took complaints from both of them, and it was not clear on Tuesday afternoon if his wife would be charged.
Senator Sepúlveda, who was in custody awaiting arraignment, did not immediately return a phone call and a text message requesting comment.
His lawyer, Marvin Ray Raskin, said the senator had been “the victim of recurring physical violence by his estranged spouse for approximately nine years, a situation he has endured because of the young child they share together.”
“This false accusation is a calculated attempt by a disgruntled party to leverage a divorce settlement from a case she filed in Florida this past November,” he added. “All allegations must be taken seriously and investigated to the full extent of the law, which is why the senator is committed to and will proactively provide full transparency as this matter is resolved.”
Mr. Sepúlveda’s wife lives in Orlando, Fla., with their 9-year-old son, Mr. Raskin said. She was visiting New York at the time of the incident and the child was not present, he said.
His wife did not answer phone calls on Tuesday seeking comment.
The political fallout on Tuesday was swift for Senator Sepúlveda, a Democrat who is running for borough president of the Bronx.
Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic majority leader in the State Senate, said Mr. Sepúlveda would be removed as chairman of the Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee and stripped of all his committee assignments.
“I take these allegations extremely seriously and will be monitoring this situation closely,” Ms. Stewart-Cousins said in a statement.
Senator Robert G. Ortt, the Republican minority leader, called on Mr. Sepúlveda to resign immediately if the allegations were found to be true.
“Let me be clear,” Senator Ortt said in a statement. “We cannot tolerate any acts of domestic violence from anyone, especially a sitting member of our Senate Chamber.”
Mr. Sepúlveda joined the Senate in April 2018 after serving nearly six years in the Assembly.
In Albany, he is most well-known for working on some criminal justice reforms recently spearheaded by Democrats after they regained full control of the Senate in 2018. In 2019, he sponsored the so-called Green Light bill, which granted driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants in New York.
Mr. Sepúlveda said this month that he was running for Bronx borough president, joining an increasingly crowded field of candidates.
Indeed, on Saturday evening, hours after his wife called the police, the senator participated in a virtual forum of candidates vying for the position.
“I am running to be the next borough president to help reimagine what the Bronx could be,” he said in the forum, vowing to improve the borough’s economic and health disparities.
One close relative of Mr. Sepúlveda said the senator had to apply makeup during a campaign video shoot on Saturday to cover a laceration on his face as a result of the dispute.
The argument over the weekend began after Mr. Sepúlveda removed his wife from their joint bank account, according to the relative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal from the senator’s wife.
On Tuesday, one of the candidates running, Assemblywoman Nathalia Fernández, called on the senator to submit his resignation.
“Unfortunately, this is not the first time allegations of domestic violence have been brought against Senator Sepúlveda,” she said in a message on Twitter. “We need leadership that empowers women.”
In 2015, Mr. Sepúlveda’s estranged wife sought a temporary order of protection against him following an argument that began when she returned to their apartment to retrieve belongings, the Daily News reported. Both said the incident did not turn violent; the protection order was never issued.
In January 2020, just as lawmakers convened in Albany to begin the new legislative session, legislators received a rambling 13-page letter from Mr. Sepúlveda’s older incarcerated brother, accusing the senator of a range of lurid crimes.
Mr. Sepúlveda categorically denied those claims, which were never substantiated. He said that the letter amounted to an extortion attempt from his brother, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1998 after being convicted in a drug conspiracy involving the importation of cocaine, marijuana and hashish oil.
“Let me make it clear that these allegations are unequivocally false,” Mr. Sepúlveda said at the time. “Unfortunately, my brother is currently in a difficult place in his life.”
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