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Nurse seeking to aid wounded Marine says Bob Filner harassed her

Michelle Tyler met with the San Diego mayor in June on behalf of a veteran who needed help dealing with the VA. Tyler says Filner would help only if she dated him.

August 06, 2013|By Tony Perry
  • Michelle Tyler, left, looks on as her attorney, Gloria Allred, speaks at a news conference Tuesday.
Michelle Tyler, left, looks on as her attorney, Gloria Allred, speaks at… (Gregory Bull, Associated…)

SAN DIEGO — A nurse on Tuesday accused Mayor Bob Filner of sexually harassing her in his City Hall office when she met with him to seek help for a Marine severely injured in Iraq.

"I felt that his rubbing my arm and telling me to relax … was extremely inappropriate and unacceptable," said Michelle Tyler, sitting beside her attorney, Gloria Allred, at a packed news conference.

Tyler said she met with Filner in June. Filner made it clear he would help the Marine deal with the Department of Veterans Affairs only if Tyler dated him, she said.

The Marine, Katherine Ragazzino, said she had asked Tyler for help dealing with the VA over her post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Ragazzino, a retired staff sergeant, served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I don't appreciate being used as a bargaining chip to fulfill his sexual desires," Ragazzino said.

Tyler's allegations fit the pattern cited by other women who have accused Filner of sexual misconduct: that Filner makes unwanted advances at the end of meetings in which women have sought his help on a project or public issue.

In a scandal now in its fourth week, a former staffer has sued Filner alleging sexual harassment, and 10 other women have publicly accused him of making unwanted advances. Seven of nine members of the City Council, and numerous San Diego business leaders and the local Democratic Party, have called on the 70-year-old Democrat to resign.

Filner has refused. He is undergoing two weeks of therapy to learn how to treat women with respect, he said. He is set to return to work Aug. 19 and has promised to continue counseling for what he admits has been a long history of treating women badly.

A recall effort is in its early stages. The Sheriff's Department has set up a hotline to field allegations against him. Investigators on Monday interviewed Irene McCormack Jackson, the former staffer who is suing Filner.

Allred said she was not filing a lawsuit on Tyler's behalf "at this time," but added that her client would speak to investigators from the Sheriff's Department and representatives of state Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris.

"I have been contacted by other women," Allred said. She said she believes a sign should be posted outside the mayor's office warning women that the mayor is dangerous.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, Filner was a staunch supporter of veterans who fought to make sure they received adequate medical care. He was chairman of the Committee on Veterans Affairs from 2007 to 2011.

The meeting with Tyler reportedly occurred June 11. Ragazzino's dispute with the VA apparently involves a disability claim.

Meeting notes released Monday by the mayor's chief of staff under legal pressure indicate that Filner's staff was in open revolt in June, angry and demoralized by his tough and insulting management style.

"People in my off[ice] crying," one notation said.

The notes were taken by now-Chief of Staff Lee Burdick at a June 20 "policy meeting" and a June 29 "emergency meeting."

Both meetings were held before three former supporters — former City Councilwoman Donna Frye and attorneys Cory Briggs and Marco Gonzalez — held a news conference July 11 to accuse Filner of a pattern of harassing women.

Burdick, an attorney, had asserted that the notes were covered by attorney-client privilege and did not have to be turned over to the city attorney. City Atty. Jan Goldsmith demanded the notes as his staff investigates possible misconduct by the mayor.

Burdick complied on Monday, minutes before a deadline that Goldsmith had set to receive the notes before he went to court to demand them.

Notes from the June 20 meeting indicate that Allen Jones, Filner's deputy chief of staff and a longtime supporter and confidant, told the mayor that his behavior was unacceptable, morale was low and people were upset.

Jones told Filner that he would quit if Filner did not change his behavior. "Then go," Filner is quoted as telling Jones.

The notes also indicate that Jackson, then Filner's director of communications, was also angry at his treatment of staff and mentioned an alleged comment that is now central to her lawsuit against him: that he once asked her to work without panties.

Filner, according to the notes, appeared "perplexed" and apparently did not recall ever making such a comment: "What did she mean by that?"

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