WASHINGTON – An
airport baggage employee who claims Rep. Bob Filner
assaulted her after growing irate about his delayed
luggage says the court-ordered apology she received from
the congressman is “pathetic,” that she is considering
civil action and that the courts may have been lenient
because of Filner's status as a lawmaker.
Joanne Kay Kunkel, the 35-year-old United Airlines
customer service representative who filed an assault
charge against the San Diego Democrat, said the stress and
anxiety caused by the encounter have rendered her unable
to work at the job she has held for more than eight years.
“This is someone that many people respect and look up
to, and if he can get away with this so easily, why can't
anyone off the streets?” Kunkel said in an interview.
She claimed Filner screamed and pushed past her into an
employees-only area in search of his bags Aug. 19 at
Dulles International Airport in Virginia.
At the General District Court of Loudon County, Va., on
Monday, Filner entered a so-called Alford plea after
prosecutors reduced the misdemeanor assault and battery
charge to trespassing.
In the plea, similar to a no-contest plea, Filner did
not admit guilt, but acknowledged that sufficient evidence
exists for a conviction. He was fined $100 and ordered to
write Kunkel an apology, which Kunkel received in the
Filner wrote that he is “sorry for raising my voice and
behaving discourteously toward you and your colleagues,”
Kunkel said, reading the letter in a telephone interview.
“ 'I was frustrated after a long day of traveling,' ”
Filner wrote, she said. “ 'I overreacted and should not
have done so. Please accept my most sincere apologies.' ”
Filner has said he acted out of frustration because his
flight and baggage were delayed and no airline workers
would tell him why. He insists nothing violent occurred.
“I want to make clear that I did not strike, push or
shove anyone,” he said in a statement after the court
hearing. “Nor did I seek any sort of special treatment
because I was a congressman.”
He said he didn't tell the United personnel “where I
worked or what I did for a living.”
But Kunkel insisted yesterday that Filner shoved her
twice near the shoulders – hard enough to cause a person
to stumble backward. She also said she believes that a man
of less standing would have been forced to face her in
“Representative Filner got his day in court, and I got
nothing,” said Kunkel, who said she has encountered many
upset travelers, but never one as “scary” or “hostile” as
“The (prosecutor) has essentially offered
Representative Filner a simple slap on the wrist and the
ability to avoid acknowledging guilt or culpability.”
Filner could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Kunkel said she has been unable to work because of the
“stress” and “anxiety” resulting from the incident.
“Nothing has been done to address my injuries,” said
Kunkel, who has two children, ages 2 and 12.
She is not on disability, she said, but instead has
been taking sick leave since the incident. She plans to
return to work Dec. 10.
Ryan W. Perry, the assistant commonwealth's attorney
who prosecuted the case, has said prosecutors could
re-file charges if Filner's letter was not a “real
apology.” But Kunkel said Perry told her that the apology
letter was satisfactory. Now that the case against Filner
appears to be settled, Kunkel said she is talking with an
attorney friend about her options, which she said may
include civil action against the congressman.
The House Ethics Committee has appointed a four-member
investigative panel to look into the matter. House rules
call for the Ethics Committee to investigate any member
indicted or arrested on a criminal charge and create an
investigative panel no later than 30 days after the
charges are filed.
The committee agreed to delay the investigation until
the legal proceedings concluded.