Former Mayor Bob Filner maintained on the witness stand Wednesday that he had not sexually harassed anyone while leading the city of San Diego, nor could he recall an encounter with a woman whose lawsuit alleges he put her in a chokehold.
"I don't remember the incident at all, sir," Filner said as he was questioned in San Diego County Superior Court by a lawyer representing city employee Stacy McKenzie.
"I don't remember even meeting her, sir."
When asked whether he recalled putting his arm around McKenzie's neck in April 2013 — an action described in court as a chokehold — Filner said he would not do such a thing. He also denied standing behind McKenzie during the encounter at a Mission Bay park, pressing his body against hers and brushing her breast with his elbow.
"I don't recall the incident, but there are certain things I would never do," he said.
Filner, 73, a former 10-term congressman, resigned as mayor in August 2013 after several women accused him of touching them inappropriately or making unwanted sexual comments.
McKenzie, who has worked in the parks and recreation department for 35 years, sued Filner and the city in December 2013, claiming sexual battery and sexual harassment, among other allegations.
Hers is the first lawsuit to go to trial. Five others have settled; one other is pending.
Before he resigned, Filner apologized and said he would seek counseling.
In October 2013, having served less than a year as mayor, Filner pleaded guilty to felony false imprisonment for manhandling a woman at a March 2013 fundraising event by putting her in what became known as "the Filner headlock." He also pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor battery charges, one for kissing a woman without her consent at a "Meet the Mayor" event at City Hall and the other for grabbing a woman's buttocks at a Fiesta Island cleanup event.
McKenzie was not one of the women identified as victims in those charges.
On Wednesday, her attorney, Manuel Corrales Jr., asked Filner several questions about accusations of inappropriate behavior with his executive assistant and communications director, both women, while he was in office.
Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor told the jurors they could consider Filner's alleged conduct with other women only to help them determine whether they believe his testimony.
Filner agreed he had stated in the past that he never harassed anyone. When asked whether he knew what a chokehold was, he answered, "Not really, sir."
He acknowledged, however, that some behavior the lawyer described would or could be violations of the city's sexual harassment policies. Filner said he fired some employees during his time in office, but stopped short of agreeing with Corrales' contention that staff members were too intimidated to come to him with complaints.
"Some employees thought I would yell at them, yes," he testified.
Filner served on the San Diego school board, then on the City Council before he was elected to Congress.
Asked how he felt about pleading guilty to a felony, he lowered his head. "The whole experience was incredibly devastating," said Filner, who earlier in this testimony said he admitted to the charges on his lawyers' advice. "I did not think I was guilty of many of the accusations."
Ultimately, he said, it became impossible for him to govern, a situation he said was partly because of "people who opposed what I was trying to do as mayor."
"That was the saddest day of my life, sir," Filner testified. He said it was "extremely heartbreaking."
"I was devastated, and I have been, in the last two to three years, trying to understand what happened," he said, explaining that he had undergone intense therapy. "I think I've come out a better and stronger person, even though I don't have the mayor's job."
Filner could be called to testify later in the trial when defense attorneys have the opportunity to call witnesses.
Littlefield writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.