CNN: Filner groped, hit on women military veterans, rape victims

CNN releases flirty message allegedly from Filner

SAN DIEGO - Two women military veterans who were victims of sex assault while they were in service are publicly speaking out about how San Diego Mayor Bob Filner made inappropriate advances towards them, CNN reported Wednesday.

CNN says the women are members of the National Women's Veterans Association of America in San Diego. One of them, Eldonna Fernandez, told CNN that she met the then-congressman Filner at a National Women's Veterans Association of America "Healing and Hiring Fair."

"He looks at my card. He looks at me. He says, 'Fernandez. Are you married? Do you have a husband?' Very quick, very direct. I said, 'No, I'm divorced.' 'Well, you're beautiful, and I can't take my eyes off you, and I want to take you to dinner.' I was really shocked and I was like, 'Uh, OK,'" Fernandez told CNN.

Fernandez said after the event held about a year ago, Filner left her a flirty voicemail message.

"Hi, it's your newly favorite congressman, Bob Filner. You know, the one who fell in love with you at your last speech. I don't want to wait 'til you come back to have dinner with you," according to CNN.

She never responded to the message.

Fernandez was raped three times while serving in the Air Force and is now an advocate for sex assault victims. She said as sex harassment allegations against Filner came to light in recent weeks, she realized several other women had similar experiences during women's veteran events.

She and other women tell CNN that they feel Filner used his power as a former chairman of the House Veteran's Affairs Committee to take advantage of women, many of them military sex assault survivors who are vulnerable and less likely to speak up.

Another woman, Gerri Tindley, said Filner rubbed and touched her while they were both waiting in a green room to speak at the NWAA event.

The president of the group, Tara Jones, told CNN she has spoken with seven to eight women who said they had similar encounters with Filner at events.

"He went to dinners, asked women out to dinners, grabbed breasts, buttocks. The full gamut. Everything that is complete violation of what we stand for," Jones told CNN. "He's a sexual predator. And he used this organization for his own personal agenda."

Jones joins others in calling the mayor to resign.

"He preyed upon people who were vulnerable, who he knew nine times out of 10 would not speak up," she told CNN.

Click to read the CNN article

During a news conference Wednesday, Jones said, "When I got to eight or 10, I stopped counting."

Jones and other members of NWAA wore "PLEASE RESIGN" t-shirts. She said Filner targeted the wrong group. 

"We are determined to ensure that he does not hold public office," she told reporters.

Jones added in a raised voice, "There's nothing funny about holding people down.  There's nothing funny about putting your tongue down people's throat, UNWANTED. There's nothing funny about touching and triggering rape survivors."

Her group was planning to give Filner an award at an event in San Diego later this month. After he was accused of sexual harassment they skipped the award but asked Filner to be their keynote speaker. Now, they want him to abide by his contract with them and show up so they can give him a piece of their minds.

Jones said she would like an apology. She would also like Filner to resign. The mayor has said repeatedly he will not do that.

CNN's story also sparked renewed calls for Filner's ouster.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, said on her Twitter account "Just when you think it can't get any worse... Please, Mayor Filner resign, then stay in rehab forever. You need it." The remark was followed by a link to the CNN story.

Gonzalez formerly led the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, an umbrella organization for the labor unions that funded most of Filner's mayoral campaign. She is also the sister of Marco Gonzalez, a North County attorney who was one of three former Filner supporters who first raised the sexual harassment allegations.

Tuesday, a nurse seeking help for an injured Marine ensnared in Veterans Administration red tape said the San Diego mayor sought a personal relationship with her.

Her lawyer, Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred, said Filner made his advances on licensed vocational nurse Michelle Tyler in the mayor's office on June 11, about a month before Marco Gonzalez, lawyer Cory Briggs and ex-Councilwoman Donna Frye leveled the first allegations.

Allred said Tyler had seen Filner when he was a congressman and leader of the House Veterans Affairs Committee because the Marine, Katherine Ragazzino, had not been able to resolve her problems with the VA, and he asked her to return if the issues persisted. Ragazzino said she suffered a traumatic brain injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder during her service in Iraq.

Allred said that at the latest meeting, Filner seemed willing to help Tyler, "but at a price," notably a "personal and sexual relationship."

"In other words, Mayor Filner wanted Ms. Tyler to help him fulfill his sexual needs if she wanted his help for a deserving war veteran," Allred said. "That is not only disgusting, but a complete abuse of power that should not be tolerated by the electorate."

Allred -- appearing with Tyler and Ragazzino before reporters in San Diego -- said the women do not plan to file a lawsuit, but they want City Attorney Jan Goldsmith to open an investigation of the mayor. Goldsmith has said his office is investigating the allegations against Filner, who started two weeks of behavioral therapy on Monday.

Filner has apologized for what he called a failure to respect women and his "intimidating conduct" but insists that his actions do not constitute sexual harassment.

Many political, civic and business leaders have called for the mayor to resign, including seven of the nine members of the City Council, the San Diego County Democratic Party Central Committee, former Mayor Jerry Sanders, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles.