Filner testifies, denies sex harassment claims

Posted at 6:37 AM, Mar 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-23 21:19:52-04

SAN DIEGO -- Bob Filner took the stand Wednesday morning in the trial over a civil sexual harassment lawsuit filed against the ex-mayor and the city of San Diego.

Filner had been set to testify on the trial's first day on Tuesday, but plaintiff Stacy McKenzie was called instead. McKenzie testified that she felt "doomed" after she was accosted in 2013 at De Anza Cove. 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.
McKenzie’s attorney peppered Filner with rapid fire questions, but all he got back was one denial after another. When asked if he ever put his arm around McKenzie, Filner responded, “I don't recall ever doing that sir.” 
“Did you ever grab her wrist, and pull her close to you when she introduced herself?” the attorney asked.  
“No, I don't remember the incident at all, sir.”
On Wednesday, Filner admitted that numerous complaints were made against him by female employees, he insisted that he never harassed anyone. He denied specific incidents that involved groping, unwanted touching, headlocks and sexually explicit comments. 
According to McKenzie’s testimony Monday, Filner told her to wait while he completed an interview with a student journalist. 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."
Former mayoral staffer and Councilwoman Donna Frye, whose news conference alleging Filner's behavior toward women while in office precipitated his eventual downfall, was also expected to be called to the witness stand.
 Her case is one of two unresolved lawsuits against Filner and the city and the first to come to trial. Nearly 20 women came forward after Frye's news conference to accuse Filner of sexual misconduct. Several other lawsuits have been settled.
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.