BREAKING: Sheriff clears candidate Phil Graham

BREAKING: Sheriff clears candidate Phil Graham
Courtesy photo

ENCINITAS — The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department has cleared 76th Assembly candidate Phil Graham of any wrongdoing after conducting an investigation into an allegation that he forcibly kissed a woman at an Encinitas bar.

The Sheriff’s Department disclosed its findings in a news release Tuesday night, one week before the June 5 primary election.

“After conducting a thorough investigation, interviewing several witnesses and reviewing video surveillance from both inside and outside of the business, detectives disproved the allegations made against Mr. Graham,” the department said in the release. “As a result, this case is being closed as unfounded, pending any new or additional information.”

Graham’s accuser, Niki Burgan, said that Graham forcibly kissed her during the early morning hours of May 14 after a night of drinking at the 1st Street Bar in Encinitas.

But variations in her story to different media outlets and a series of restraining orders filed against Burgan in the past accusing her of filing false reports raised serious doubts about the veracity of her claims.

Graham, the stepson of Pete Wilson, is one of seven candidates in the 76th State Assembly District race. He stridently denied the allegations, which The Coast News first reported last week.

“Earlier today, the San Diego Sheriff’s Office rejected as unfounded a false claim that had been filed against Assembly candidate Phil Graham,” his campaign spokesman Mike Foster said. “We appreciate the prompt action of the Sheriff’s Office in thoroughly investigating the claim, and in determining the truth in this matter.

“Phil will continue his campaign’s focus on the significant issues that matter to all San Diegans, like lowering taxes, creating jobs, and helping our economy grow,” the statement concluded.

25 Comments
  1. TruthSeeker 4 months ago

    The media in this case acted disgracefully. They published this barfly’s salacious allegation with zero corroboration, without knowing what the bar video showed, and without considering her sordid past. Why? CoastNews and the rest of the outlets that pushed this story should be ashamed. Further, if there is enough evidence, the “accuser” should be charged with filing a false report and punished harshly. Lets hope the media and this woman behave better in the future.

    • Lucy 4 months ago

      Definitely agree

  2. Lucy 4 months ago

    The media is not interested in reporting the truth only infullfilling am agenda.

  3. Katie K. 4 months ago

    Lucy, I’m fairly liberal and don’t agree with Phil Graham’s politics, but I (and many like me) also believe that there should be criminal repercussions for this sort of provable false reporting. She should do jail time AND be required to publicly recant and apologize.

  4. Aaron Burgin 4 months ago

    TruthSeeker,

    We reported in an online story that the Sheriff’s Department was investigating a candidate for political office. We then followed it up in print with a story that detailed some of the questions surrounding Ms. Burgan’s past, as well as conflicts in her account to both us and NBC7. I personally spent lots of my own money on background searches, court records and other incidental costs to make sure we covered this story from soup to nuts. And we promptly covered the sheriff’s announcement of its findings. Thank you for following the story and reading our paper.

    Sincerely,
    AB

  5. Andrew 4 months ago

    Good job Aaron.

    A police investigation into someone running for office is a newsworthy event, no matter how the investigation concludes.

    Some seem quick to malign journalists these days. Can’t imagine the source of that impulse.

    • Tom B. 4 months ago

      I think the issue with this is the first story wasn’t simply – “Sheriff opens investigation” – we’ll update as we investigate the story, it was just bunch of lies by Burgan and the story got some facts wrong and didn’t bother to check. She even lied about being a vet tech, which the author could have looked up and then saw a bunch of red flags.

  6. Aaron Burgin 4 months ago

    Tom B.

    Actually, if you read our first story, it wasn’t “a bunch of lies” – we broke down her basic allegations. NBC 7 actually went into much deeper details about her story in their interview, which was something we weren’t prepared to do at the time. I am unaware of any facts that we got wrong in the first one, because it was a very basic recounting of her allegation and a quick discussion by a political expert about what the fallout of such allegations – true or otherwise – could be to a candidate. It was, for lack of a better phrase, “get in, get out, get on.” The “get on” part began when I was doing due diligence on both Graham and Burgan and typed both names in court searches. Graham’s name came up in a domestic civil matter (divorce) and Burgan’s included a civil case from 2007 and two more recent civil restraining order requests.

    That was when we ramped up efforts to further probe her background and these court cases – some of which can be purchased on the court’s register of actions – but others have to be obtained from the actual courthouse. It takes time and effort to try to get the story right, especially given the fact that this paper doesn’t have the budget for that type of due diligence. It comes straight out of the freelancer’s pockets. And I’m not rolling in dough, LOL.

    I appreciate you and others bringing up your concerns, and in any ways we can do better, we will.

    AB

    • Brian 4 months ago

      I am glad you did the follow up work, Aaron. Your investigative journalism (and follow up story) showed just how ridiculous her fabricated story was. It’s frustrating that she could tell such a detailed lie on television

  7. Tom B. 4 months ago

    I’d bet my life on it that if Graham was a democrat your first story would have been written much different or held until further investigation after the primary

  8. Aaron Burgin 4 months ago

    Tom. B

    With all due respect, that’s not a smart bet, and I wouldn’t want you to drop dead spontaneously. I wrote stories regarding former Carlsbad Unified school board member Kelli Moors (Democrat) that ultimately led to her being investigated by the FPPC, as well as several other investigative stories at my previous stops.

    Many thanks,
    AB

  9. TruthSeeker 4 months ago

    Mr. Burgin:
    You wrote above: “We reported in an online story that the Sheriff’s Department was investigating a candidate for political office.” No…you did far far more than that. You published the candidate’s name and the woman’s outrageous claims, and disseminated this information out to the public a few weeks before an election. And most importantly, which you have yet to address…you did this BEFORE knowing what was on the video evidence in the bar!!! Why did you do this? You knew there was video evidence that would likely prove if she was lying or not, but you ran her ever-expanding accusations anyways without knowing what was on the video? Why???? Answer this question. Its really the only one that matters at this point.

    • Lucy 4 months ago

      I agree with truth seeker

  10. Aaron Burgin 4 months ago

    TruthSeeker:

    The public has a right to know if a candidate is being investigated, and they have a right to know the nature of those allegations. The existence of video (which we as reporters don’t have access too, only the sheriff department does) doesn’t change that basic fact. But to satisfy your inquiry, I don’t know any other news organization that would “wait until they knew what was on the video” before reporting the existence of a sheriff’s investigation into a major political candidate.

    I understand that you might be a supporter of Mr. Graham, but as a news reporter, if there is a news story, we cover it. Read our first story once more. We didn’t go into the lurid details that Burgan went into on TV news. I know because I had a completely different draft of the story that did, and our paper made the responsible decision to not disseminate those details in the original story.

    You also mentioned the timing of the coverage. There is never a great time to report on a candidate being investigated. If this was a candidate whom you opposed, and you found out the day after the election that they were being investigated during the final weeks of the campaign, you would call for my job. That’s why we report the news and continue the coverage to make sure the public is apprised of every development.

    I understand that nothing I say to you will change how you feel, but I hope I’ve given you some insights into how we pursued the story here at the paper.

    Take care,
    AB

  11. TruthSeeker 4 months ago

    Mr. Burgin…thank you for responding. My support or lack thereof of the candidate is irrelevant. I just think tarring anyone publicly with salacious allegations that can be readily disproved with easily reviewed video evidence is just plain irresponsible. I would say this if the subject of the claim was of any party. You folks in the media have great power to destroy lives and careers with your reporting. And with that power comes great responsibility to get the story RIGHT, not wrong then corrected at some later time after the damage has been done. You chose the latter in this case, and that’s a shame. The media plays an important role in our country holding those in power accountable. But you totally undermined your credibility by doing what you did in this case.

  12. Lucy 4 months ago

    So basically now we know there are no consequences for woman who make false accusations as long as you are a democrat! Nice one! Well I wouldn’t want the life of that kind of woman anyways they sell their souls but God will deal with them and indeed he is. Sucks to be middle aged unmarried and desperate! Old and alone she will be! Not much of a future there for sure.

  13. Aaron Burgin 4 months ago

    Truthseeker,

    I am not sure if you fully grasp how our industry works. We didn’t get the initial story “wrong.” We reported that Phil Graham was being investigated by the Sheriff’s Department on allegations that he forcibly kissed a woman. That is a statement of fact. The job to investigate the claims is for the Sheriff’s Department, not us. As we gathered additional information, our follow-up stories were both prompt and detailed. And finally, when the Sheriff’s Department cleared Mr. Graham, we reported it with the same swiftness.

    In your paradigm of journalism, we would not report that an assembly candidate was being investigated. You would wait until the Sheriff’s department announces that her claims weren’t credible and report that they were under investigation but were recently cleared. That’s now how journalism works. Period.

    And, as much as I have enjoyed the back and forth, I honestly don’t worry about my credibility being undermined in the eyes of a person who is unwilling to put their name next to their criticism. I stand by my reporting.

    Have a good day,
    AB

  14. Living in Encinitas 4 months ago

    I think the Coast News did a nice job covering this story. It sounds like Aaron Burgin had to do a lot of investigative work, which is more than the usual work of a local journalist in the digital/web age. Give him some credit. He did enough investigative and detective work to discover and expose someone who filed a false police report and tried to ruin someone’s reputation. Hopefully because of Aaron’s work, the next person Niki Burgan tries to scam will be on to her sooner and protect themselves from her hurting them.

    It seems like Niki Burgan actually committed a crime by lying and filing a false report to the police. I just googled, and it is california penal code 148.5. “Penal Code 148.5 applies when the person reporting the false crime knows it to be false”.

    Will the SD Sheriff bring charges against Niki Burgan for this? Our taxpayer dollars were wasted on forcing the police to investigate her lies. She should be punished for this, or at least have to pay back the money that the police spent on investigating this false report. (Including cost of labor time of the detectives who investigated it.)

    Also, she tried to ruin this man’s reputation, and it might end up costing him the election, even though he didn’t do anything wrong.

    It doesn’t seem fair or right that someone can just make up lies about someone, file a false police report, force detectives to waste time on investigation, and ruin this man’s job prospects, without having to face punishment, fines, and jail time. She shouldn’t be allowed to get away with this.

    • Katie K. 4 months ago

      Living in Encinitas, I agree with everything you said. The question is, what can we do to push the SDSD and the DA to pursue charges against her? I live in Encinitas too and am a Republican planning to vote for Phil. I just received a number of mailings, from various PACs, detailing the false allegations against Phil and calling for the party to pull their support of him. This is all based on Niki Burgan’s criminally false allegations. If anyone knows how we can pressure the powers that be to pursue charges, I’m all in to help with that effort.

  15. TruthSeeker 4 months ago

    Mr. Burgin..thank you for spirited debate. And remember …fight for the truth, not the story.

    On another note, upon review of all three articles, the following facts stood out:
    1. Ms. Burgan is a long time friend of Mr. Stocks, Mr. Graham’s competitor, thereby giving her motive to help Stocks. Coincidence?
    2. Ms. Burgan made her contact with Graham and subsequent false allegation a few weeks before the election. Coincidence?
    3. Ms. Burgan, out of all the bars in San Diego, chose that bar …where Mr. Graham just happened to be. Coincidence?
    4. Out of all the people to talk to in that bar Ms. Burgan chose her friend’s competitor, Mr. Graham. Coincidence?
    Is your stink meter going off? Mine is. The timing of her false allegations, her “coincidental” links to Stocks, the location..I could be wrong, but it seems something ain’t right here.

  16. LaJoyce Robinson 4 months ago

    The DA should file charges against Niki Burgan for filing a false allegation report. All the campaign mailing that have come in the mail almost made me pull Phil Graham’s signs out of the front lawn and then I searched the internet and came up with the truth. That woman could have caused him the election after he has spent campaign money that was given to him by supporters. This just does not involve one person, it involves many many people who have put their time and money into Phil Graham’s campaign.
    If he loses being one of the top 2 for the November election then she should be sued for the amount of money that was spent in his campaign.

  17. Aditya 4 months ago

    If Phil Graham fails to take action against Niki Burgan then he will be partially responsible for any harm that comes to future victims. He has the money and power to have her held accountable and to ensure that she experiences consequences for her criminal behavior. Doing nothing now that her allegations were proven lies, is the cowards way out and is very very disappointing. In standing up for himself, Phil would also be standing up for his potential constituents. That’s what I want to see in our representatives.

  18. Local 4 months ago

    Aaron Burgin,
    I think you and your team did a FANTASIC job. Had you not taken the time or done the research (Which Niki Burgan counts on to settle for cash from her victims), this Phil Graham would have been yanked from the election (save your comments people! this isn’t about politics this is about reporting a false crime – REPEATEDLY), and had Phil Graham been a doctor, a teacher, a MINISTER? Same ending. This man would have lost his rights do to being strong armed by some heavy HEAVY allegation’s. Again, these comments are taking board to things that are out of the box. Encinitas is a small community, Niki Bergan broke the news herself. So if ANYONE is the blame for all the time, efforts, and distraction? it is once again – NIKI BERGAN. This woman…..is sooooo well know in and out of the community as being a lying scam artist. she needs HELP. If there is anyone who supports her? Support her by getting her mental help. She has children and those children will suffer the consequences as they get older and start getting teased by other children for their mother’s outlandish scams. Thanks you Aaron for seeing this story through to the end. – A LOCAL

  19. TruthSeeker 4 months ago

    “This woman…..is sooooo well know in and out of the community as being a lying scam artist. ”

    And yet the CoastNews published her lies, all in order to get clicks on the page and ad views. Shame on you CoastNews. Shame on you.

  20. Friend of an ex 3 months ago

    I can’t believe I’m just seeing this now. This lady dated one of my buddies at work and told him she had pancreatic cancer. Who lies about something like that? She’s a nightmare and trier to get him fired with crazy false accusations. She harassed our hr people to the point that they blocked her. This is crazy. Are they pressing charges against her or what?

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