I was the Republican candidate for Congress against Rep. Bob Filner in 2004. On Feb. 22, 2003, Imperial Valley Press Staff Writer Michael Salorio wrote, “Congressman Filner made an unauthorized entry into a secure area of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service’s El Centro processing center Friday night after being told he was not going to be allowed to speak with a detainee seeking political asylum.” The detention officers called the El Centro police, who arrived during the “standoff” with Filner. The police officers were unsure if they had jurisdiction.
El Centro police Sgt. John Seaman said the officers left the scene because INS officials could not decide what they wanted to have done as INS Officer In Charge Caryl Thompson was on his way from Yuma to deal with the situation.
Seaman said INS officials were alleging that Filner had barged his way into the secure area by pushing a security guard out of the way.
Filner was eventually allowed by INS detention center Chief Manuel De Leon to meet with the detainee. Filner then “apologized” and said he would go through “proper channels” to talk to more detainees at the facility.
Shortly thereafter, I obtained a copy of the incident report written by Supervisory Detention Enforcement Officer Juan J. Ramirez dated Feb. 22, 2003.
Ramirez stated 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 Imperial Valley Press reporters. The group wanted to see the detainee. Ramirez told Filner that he would have to wait while they obtained permission for him to visit the detainee, adding that they were seeking permission from INS supervisors 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 forcing his way into the control area.” Ramirez and seven other officers tried to reason with Filner, requesting that he depart the secure area, which he refused to do. At that point, Ramirez ordered Officer Michael Moore to “call CCTV to start recording the area.” (I tried unsuccessfully to obtain a copy of that video.) At one point, Filner said, “I am a Congressman and I can do what ever I want.” (Editor’s note: VOSD published a story on Oct. 22 regarding the story behind the quote.)
Filner shouted at the officers and told one to “shut up.” Ramirez told Filner “he was out of line and that he had no right to be talking to my officers that way.” Ramirez then wrote: “As I made my way to the supervisor’s office, Congressman Filner tried to follow me, but was stopped by Security Supervisor Tapia, Security Officer Aguirre, and IDEO Raya. Congressman Filner then tried to push his way through the officers and even tried to go under them, but did not succeed.”
Ramirez notified the El Centro Police Department, which sent officers to the scene, but “who had questions about jurisdiction” and subsequently departed. Eventually, INS Officer in Charge Caryl Thompson arrived and District Director Adele Fassano called and spoke with Filner. Filner was allowed in to see the detainee, per Ms. Fassano’s instructions.
Then, Filner apologized to the officers and “accepted responsibility for his actions and admitted handling the situation incorrectly.”
In 2007, news outlets around the country reported Filner was facing assault and battery charges for allegedly shoving his way past the outstretched arm of a United Airlines baggage worker and entering a restricted area at Dulles International Airport. I contacted the San Diego Union-Tribune and provided them with details of the 2003 incident at the INS detention facility in El Centro.
On Aug. 22, 2007, Copley reporter Marcus Stern verified that the incident had occurred: “‘I recall a report being filed after the incident,’ said Lauren Mack, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Diego.”
On Sept. 23, 2007, I provided the House Ethics Committee an account of the 2003 incident.
With his actions in 2003, Filner engaged in conduct that was beneath the dignity of a member of the House of Representatives. I asked the Ethics Committee to investigate Filner’s conduct in the 2003 incident. I never received a response.
Now Filner hopes to be elected mayor of San Diego. If past is prologue, we may soon be hearing “I’m the mayor and can do whatever I want!”
Mike Giorgino is a retired Navy Surface Warfare Commander and a Gulf War Veteran. He may be contacted at email@example.com.
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