ENCINITAS — The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department continues to investigate a Carlsbad woman’s claims that 76th State Assembly candidate Phil Graham forcibly kissed her against her wishes at an Encinitas bar earlier this month.
But an examination of various public records at the very least paints a very volatile picture of the accuser, and at worst raise questions about the veracity of her claims.
Graham, a Republican and the stepson of former California Gov. Pete Wilson, has been endorsed by the County Republican Party and a number of high-ranking elected officials and has raised more money than his opponents combined. He unsuccessfully ran for Encinitas City Council in 2016.
His campaign issued a statement, calling the allegations “absurd.”
“This is simply dirty campaign politics,” Graham said. “The accusation is absurd and I’m confident voters will see through this as a blatant attempt at manipulating our election process.”
Graham’s accuser, Nichole “Niki” Burgan, 46, is a former lifeguard and a veterinarian technician.
She said that she and Graham had been drinking and talking for several hours late May 13 and in the early morning hours of May 14 at the 1st Street Bar on Coast Highway 101 in Encinitas when Graham allegedly grabbed her by the back of her hair, pulled her toward him and kissed her. Burgan said she had earlier told Graham that she had no intentions of becoming intimate with him.
She said she pushed him away and told him to not touch her again and said that Graham left the bar and walked across the street to his home in the Pacific Station Condos complex.
Burgan provided a case number to a reporter, and reporters contacted the Sheriff’s Department, which confirmed it is in the early stages of an investigation into a report of battery filed at 1:40 p.m. May 20, but has made no arrests.
“We have an early stage, active investigation under the case number you provided. There has been no arrest made at this time,” according to an email from the Sheriff’s Media Relations office.
Burgan said she did not immediately report the incident to authorities because she was worried that Graham was an influential figure and she would not be believed.
The Coast News has attempted to corroborate Burgan’s account, but has only been able to confirm that Graham was at the bar the night of the incident.
Reporters spoke to bar employees and a person who was in the bar that Sunday who confirmed that Graham was at the bar Sunday night into the early hours on Monday. One security guard said that Graham frequents the bar.
A person who was at the bar said that he left before the alleged incident occurred, so he could not confirm whether the incident happened.
According to Burgan, Graham approached her between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. May 13 during karaoke night at the bar.
Burgan said that she has been a regular at karaoke night for at least a month.
Graham asked Burgan if he could buy her a beer and she told him she was already drinking one, but he could buy her the next one.
Over the next few hours, Burgan said she talked to Graham, and learned that he was running for State Assembly. She mentioned that one of her friends is former Encinitas Councilman and 76th State Assembly Republican candidate Jerome Stocks.
Burgan said that she has known Stocks since 1997 or 1998, when they met at the old KC BBQ restaurant where she was a waitress. The Coast News contacted Stocks and asked about their relationship. Stocks confirmed where he met Burgan and said that they are friends whose older children were friends in high school.
Stocks said that Burgan was never involved with any of his political campaigns, either at the council or the assembly level this year. The Coast News examined campaign finance documents filed by Stocks for his City Council runs from 2000 to 2012 and saw no payments or mention of Burgan.
Stocks further said that he had not contacted Burgan since the incident came to light.
At the end of the evening, Burgan said she thanked Graham for the drinks.
At that moment, shortly before the bar closed around 1:40 a.m., she says Graham leaned over, placed his hand on the back of her head and pulled her in and kissed her, prompting her to push him away.
“I told him ‘you are out of your damn mind, take your hands off of me,’” Burgan said. “He said, ‘Well, you’re coming with me.’ I told him ‘I’m not going anywhere with you, and you better not be driving.’”
Burgan said she waited for him to cross the street and go into his condominium complex before getting into her car and leaving.
Burgan’s account of events — including apparent variations in her account to different media — as well has questions about her background have raised questions about the credibility of her accusations.
Following the release of The Coast News report, Burgan had a subsequent interview with NBC7 San Diego in which she claimed that Graham also grabbed her hand and placed it on his crotch.
The Coast News asked Burgan about the variation in her account. She attributed it to a car accident earlier this month.
After Burgan contacted The Coast News with her accusation, reporters began running background checks, including a search of civil and criminal court records.
Burgan’s name is included in nearly a dozen restraining orders — as recently as January — either filed by her against other people or filed against her by others. Most of the restraining orders were filed in context of her bitter divorce with ex-husband Erik Burgan, and women who subsequently dated him.
In some of the restraining order requests — which are filed under penalty of perjury — people filing against Burgan alluded to her filing false reports.
On Oct. 19, 2016, Brigid Waterhouse, who was dating Burgan’s ex-husband Erik at the time, filed a restraining order request. In her declaration, she claimed that Burgan’s behavior had “escalated from generally harassing me with threats of filing false restraining orders in spite of my having no contact with her in 11 months…to actively stalking me.”
“I live in constant fear of her showing up and inciting a confrontation or causing me physical harm,” Waterhouse wrote in the report. “As well as the continued filing of false reports to police and CPS (child protective services) with allegations she knows are untrue.”
Waterhouse detailed interactions between and Burgan herself describing an escalating pattern of harassment.
On April 4, 2016, Waterhouse stated that Erik Burgan received a call from Child Welfare Services requesting to interview them regarding a report of child abuse against his daughter perpetrated by Waterhouse.
Waterhouse said that Niki Burgan had filed a report in January against her claiming that she struck Burgan’s daughter in the face and bruised her chin, an injury Waterhouse said the daughter had suffered playing baseball.
According to Waterhouse’s statement, because Erik Burgan had an active restraining order against Niki Burgan at the time, they had access to a recorded conversation between the children and Niki the day the injury occurred in which they told Niki about the baseball injury. Child Welfare Services closed the case.
“Being intentionally and falsely accused of child abuse is a horrible thing to experience,” Waterhouse wrote.
Burgan said that many of the restraining orders were due to the bitterness of the her three-year long divorce, which encompasses two file folders at the Superior Court’s North County Division.
Waterhouse’s temporary restraining order was dismissed Nov. 1, 2016, when she did not attend a court hearing. The Coast News reached Waterhouse, who declined to comment about her interactions with Burgan, but said that she declined to pursue her restraining order because Erik Burgan had a court hearing on the same day regarding a temporary restraining order that he filed against Niki Burgan that included Waterhouse, which she said took precedence.
Court records confirm the Nov. 1, 2016 court date between Burgan and her ex-husband.
“I filed for divorce in 2014 from a law enforcement officer, after a 9-year relationship,” Niki Burgan said. “It was an extremely nasty 3-year-long divorce and we both share that blame. I try to be civil for our children.”
The most recent temporary restraining order was against Josh Elliot, her ex-fiancee. In it, she claims that she was falsely imprisoned and that Elliot repeatedly battered her over the course of their relationship.
The courts initially ordered Elliot to leave the shared residence, but in February, the court dismissed the restraining order request, citing a lack of evidence.
Elliot, reached Thursday, said that he believed Burgan used the restraining order as leverage to get him to pay for back rent. He said when he heard the news of her accusations against Graham, he wasn’t surprised.
“I thought right away that it wasn’t true,” he said. “She takes any story, flips it upside down and then turns herself into the victim for personal gain.”
As it stands, the Republican Party, which endorsed Graham in a crowded field, has not withdrawn its endorsement.
But political experts said that as long as the accusation remains out there, it could cause significant damage in the waning weeks of the election.
At least one expert, however, said that questioning the motivation of the accuser would be a political miscalculation by Graham’s campaign.
“Going on the attack against the accuser tends to backfire,” said Carl Luna, a political science professor at the University of San Diego and San Diego Mesa College. “The question that I would have is what are you doing picking up women at a bar at 1 a.m. on a Monday. If you are in a campaign for elected office, you should be serving homeless in a soup kitchen at that hour.”