San Diego Union Tribune

August 22, 2007

Report claims Filner pushy in '03 incident


WASHINGTON – Rep. Bob Filner's alleged altercation with an airline employee in Virginia on Sunday, which led to an assault-and-battery charge against the San Diego Democrat, wasn't his first such run-in, according to a 2003 Justice Department incident report.




The report alleges that Filner went to an immigration detention facility in El Centro at 6 p.m. on Feb. 22, 2003, and demanded to see a detainee. After officers told him he could not enter the facility, he slipped past them into a secure area and refused to leave when ordered to do so. He then tried unsuccessfully to push his way past detention officers to get farther inside the facility, according to the report.

Filner became argumentative and the detention officers called El Centro police. The police came to the facility, but no charges were filed, according to the report. Filner eventually was allowed to visit with the Pakistani detainee. The congressman apologized to the immigration officers on his way out of the facility, the report said.

The allegations are similar in nature to those made after Sunday's Dulles International Airport incident. A United Airlines baggage employee said Filner pushed his way past her extended arm and entered a restricted area. The airport police were summoned. They interviewed Filner, the airline employee and witnesses, but did not detain Filner.

However, the airline employee, whose identity has not been disclosed, appeared before a Loudon County, Va., magistrate later Sunday night and a summons was issued charging Filner with a misdemeanor count of assault and battery.

Filner, 64, is to appear in court Oct. 2 in connection with the charge. The eight-term congressman left the country Monday morning on an official trip to Iraq and it was unclear if he had been served with the summons before departing. His office released a statement Monday calling the charges “ridiculous” and saying he would address them more fully when he returns.

Amy Pond, his spokeswoman, did not respond to several calls placed to her yesterday in connection with both incidents.

Copley News Service learned of the 2003 report from Mike Giorgino, a Republican who ran against Filner in 2004, after he read about the alleged Dulles altercation.

An immigration official yesterday said she remembered the incident in El Centro.

“I recall a report being filed after the incident,” said Lauren Mack, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Diego. She declined to elaborate.

The author of the two-page report, supervisor Juan J. Ramirez, wrote that he had been summoned by other officers to the facility's foyer because Filner was there with the wife of a detainee and two reporters. The group wanted to see the detainee. Ramirez told Filner he would have to wait while they obtained permission for him to visit the detainee, adding that they were seeking it in an “expedited” manner.

“Congressman Filner did not accept my response and told me he had the right to see anybody he pleased,” Ramirez wrote. “He asked me when was the last time I read the Constitution and then told me if I did not let him see his constituent, he would have me arrested.”

The report went on to say that later Filner asked a detention officer, “Are you going to stop me, big man?” and to another, he asked, “Are you going to shoot me, are you going to arrest me?”

A short time later, Ramirez wrote, “I saw Congressman Filner force his way into control area.” Ramirez and seven other officers tried to persuade Filner to return to the foyer.

“I am a congressman and can do whatever I want,” Ramirez quoted Filner as saying.

When Ramirez headed to his office to call his supervisor, Filner tried to follow.

“Congressman Filner tried to push his way through the officers and even tried to go under them, but did not succeed,” Ramirez wrote.

Eventually, Filner was allowed in to see the detainee.

As he was leaving, he apologized to Ramirez.

“He accepted responsibility for his actions and admitted handling the situation improperly,” Ramirez wrote.

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