DeMaio Misrepresents Filner’s Airport Legal Troubles: Fact Check

DeMaio Misrepresents Filner’s Airport Legal Troubles: Fact Check

File photo by Sam Hodgson

Carl DeMaio

 

Image: MisleadingStatement: Mayoral candidate Bob “Filner was arrested for assaulting a female baggage handler. The woman called him scary and hostile. Filner pleaded no contest,” a recent advertisement from Filner’s opponent, Carl DeMaio.

Determination: Misleading

Analysis: It’s not surprising that San Diego mayoral candidate Bob Filner’s 2007 run-in with a baggage clerk at Dulles Airport near Washington D.C. has reared its head in the election.

When a sitting congressman gets a crime on his record, it’s news. When the circumstances surrounding that crime fit the narrative that the congressman has a combative personality, it’s going to be used against him.

In August, we dinged Filner with a Misleading rating for badly distorting the nature of the incident in a radio interview. He made the episode sound much less serious than it was.

Now in a new advertisement, Filner’s opponent, Carl DeMaio, has misrepresented the incident as well. DeMaio makes it sound more serious.

Here are the facts of the case:

In August 2007, Filner was cited for misdemeanor assault and battery after a United Airlines baggage clerk complained that the congressman pushed her during a tirade about delayed luggage. He later pleaded to a misdemeanor trespassing charge for entering a restricted area in the airport, paid a court-ordered fine and wrote a letter of apology to the clerk.

But here’s what a narrator intones at the end of DeMaio’s ad:

Most shockingly, Filner was arrested for assaulting a female baggage handler. The woman called him scary and hostile. Filner pleaded no contest.

DeMaio’s ad distorts the record in two key ways. First, Filner wasn’t arrested. Police interviewed him at the airport, but he was allowed to leave. Filner later received a summons to show up in court after the clerk pressed assault charges. Second, by not mentioning that Filner ultimately pleaded to trespassing, the ad implies there’s an assault on Filner’s record. That’s not true. Filner also has vociferously argued that he never struck the clerk. DeMaio’s ad is correct that the clerk described Filner as “scary” and “hostile.”

(A lesser point is that Filner didn’t actually plead no contest. He entered what’s known as an Alford Plea. It’s similar to a no contest plea in that a defendant does not admit guilt. But a conviction of guilty is recorded.)

DeMaio’s campaign disputed our analysis. Spokesman K.B. Forbes said the issue of Filner receiving a summons instead of being arrested was a distinction without a difference. And he said plea bargains usually involve someone copping to a lesser charge to avoid a public trial.

“Our belief, based on public statements from the victim of his assault, is that Congressman Filner received special treatment and was only allowed to plead to a lesser charge due to his stature,” Forbes said.

DeMaio’s campaign might believe that Filner received special treatment, but no one’s proven it. A court did say that Filner pleaded to misdemeanor trespassing, not assault, like the ad implies.

Our definition of a Misleading statement is one that takes an element of truth and badly distorts it or exaggerates it giving a deceptive impression.

In this case, DeMaio distorts the record to imply that the results of the incident were worse than the ultimate legal resolution.

Here’s the DeMaio ad in full:

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

You can also e-mail new Fact Check suggestions to factcheck@voiceofsandiego.org. What claim should we explore next?

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects.

Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon is senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He leads VOSD’s investigations and writes about how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next? Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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20 comments
Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Any way you slice it, it points toward mental instability and criminal behavior.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Any way you slice it, it points toward mental instability and criminal behavior.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Fact check wanted a misleading to support Finer here. I think the ad is technically true.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Fact check wanted a misleading to support Finer here. I think the ad is technically true.

Janet Shelton
Janet Shelton subscriber

So, Jim, if the truth is he was charged and he did a plea deal to avoid an assault conviction, why not say that instead of arrested and convicted of assault, which is indeed false? I don't think much of either candidate. I just prefer the truth, not misrepresentation to gain political advantage.

myearth
myearth

So, Jim, if the truth is he was charged and he did a plea deal to avoid an assault conviction, why not say that instead of arrested and convicted of assault, which is indeed false? I don't think much of either candidate. I just prefer the truth, not misrepresentation to gain political advantage.

Blanca Perez
Blanca Perez subscriber

Shame on The Voice of San Diego

BlancaP
BlancaP

Shame on The Voice of San Diego

Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster subscribermember

The behavior was bad, but distorting the severity of the incident by Mr. De Maio is also bad.

B Chris Brewster
B Chris Brewster

The behavior was bad, but distorting the severity of the incident by Mr. De Maio is also bad.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

If it was DeMaio the people here defending Filner would be calling for Carl's head on a platter. The event should be enough to disqualify Filner as fit for office, especially when taken with other similar events.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

If it was DeMaio the people here defending Filner would be calling for Carl's head on a platter. The event should be enough to disqualify Filner as fit for office, especially when taken with other similar events.

Janet Shelton
Janet Shelton subscriber

I think it was huckster propaganda. DeMaio's campaign intentionally misrepresented the facts to get an advantage.

myearth
myearth

I think it was huckster propaganda. DeMaio's campaign intentionally misrepresented the facts to get an advantage.

Colleen Smith
Colleen Smith subscriber

From an independent's point of view, at first the ads made me question Filner's demeanor, work ethic, and whatever else was attacked. With each story though, now I just question DeMaio's!

CTSmith
CTSmith

From an independent's point of view, at first the ads made me question Filner's demeanor, work ethic, and whatever else was attacked. With each story though, now I just question DeMaio's!

Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster subscribermember

esence, which probably didn't happen in this case. These are technicalities, but I think the narrative above is correct on its face. As to the behavior, Mr. Filner apparently pleaded to tresspassing. He would likely not have done so if he thought there were a better option. That said, according to the above narrative, the advertisement states, "Filner was arrested for assaulting a female baggage handler ... Filner pleaded no contest." It is apparently untrue that he was arrested and apparently untrue that he pleaded no contest to assaulting the woman. His behavior was bad. The ad is literally false.

B Chris Brewster
B Chris Brewster

esence, which probably didn't happen in this case. These are technicalities, but I think the narrative above is correct on its face. As to the behavior, Mr. Filner apparently pleaded to tresspassing. He would likely not have done so if he thought there were a better option. That said, according to the above narrative, the advertisement states, "Filner was arrested for assaulting a female baggage handler ... Filner pleaded no contest." It is apparently untrue that he was arrested and apparently untrue that he pleaded no contest to assaulting the woman. His behavior was bad. The ad is literally false.

Lucas OConnor
Lucas OConnor subscriber

And if they somehow didn't know, wouldn't it be reasonable to expect they'd have said so in the response for this article?

lucasoconnor
lucasoconnor

And if they somehow didn't know, wouldn't it be reasonable to expect they'd have said so in the response for this article?