Testimony in Filner sex harassment trial begins

Posted at 7:34 AM, Mar 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-22 16:19:09-04

A woman who claims she was the victim of sexual harassment at the hands of former Mayor Bob Filner testified Tuesday that she felt "doomed" after she was accosted in 2013 at De Anza Cove.

Stacy McKenzie was the first witness to testify in the trial of her San Diego Superior Court lawsuit -- the first related to the ex-mayor to come to trial. She alleges sexual battery by Filner, and sexual harassment and negligent failure by Filner and the city to prevent the attack.

McKenzie, a district manager for the city who oversees maintenance and operations at Mission Bay Park and some other areas, testified that she was at a Clairemont Days event on April 21, 2013, when she walked up to the then-mayor and introduced herself.

Filner told her to wait while he completed an interview with a student journalist, she said. While he spoke to the teen, he glanced at her in a "lascivious" manner, she said.

He then came over and got close to her, inquiring whether she was married or had a boyfriend, according to McKenzie. She said Filner also grabbed her tightly at the wrists and asked if she would go to lunch with him.

"He said, 'I want to make this perfectly clear -- this is not a business lunch, this is a date,'" McKenzie testified. "I thought, 'I have to get out of here.'"

She said she crossed the park and told two park rangers who work for her what happened. Filner joined them and put his arms around her from behind, and he pressed against her buttocks, she said.

"As he was starting to ask other questions, he started to drop (an arm) slowly," McKenzie said.

"That's when his arm began to graze my breast," she said. "It dropped, and I don't know if it was the elbow or forearm, and it touched my breast."

When she told Filner she was embarrassed, he laughed and walked away, McKenzie said.

After the encounter, she said she felt "doomed" because she knew Filner had a temper and she didn't want to get demoted. She said she stopped answering phone calls and avoided going downtown.

"I'm still anxious by it," McKenzie said. "I still worry about my job. I feel like politicians have long-reaching arms. I don't know if he still has friends with the city of San Diego."

Her case is one of two unresolved lawsuits against Filner and the city. Nearly 20 women accused Filner of sexual misconduct.

He resigned in August 2013 and later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery and felony false imprisonment. He was sentenced to three months on house arrest.

In his opening statement in the courtroom of Judge Timothy Taylor, Deputy City Attorney George Schaefer said the eight-man, four-woman jury will have to decide whether there was sexually oriented contact with the plaintiff's breast, and whether the now-73-year-old Filner's actions met the provisions of state sexual harassment law.

He pointed out that McKenzie's interviews with law enforcement in the months following the incident differ with her current account.

The lawsuit was filed after the city denied a $500,000 claim by McKenzie. Her lawyers will decide how much in damages to ask for when they make their closing argument.