Editor’s Note: Since the initial publication of this article, The Coast News has learned more information that cast serious doubts on the credibility of the claimant, Niki Burgan, and we will report fully on those facts as soon as possible. Thank you for reading and allowing us to investigate these matters further.
ENCINITAS — The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department is investigating a Carlsbad woman’s claims that 76th State Assembly candidate Phil Graham forcibly kissed her against her wishes at an Encinitas bar last week.
Graham, a Republican and the stepson of former California Governor 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.
“The allegation is false, this is dirty campaign politics,” Graham’s campaign said in a statement on Monday. “We will fully cooperate with authorities to put this accusation to rest.”
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 on the evening of 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 towards 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, who then contacted the Sheriff’s Department which confirmed they are in the early stages of an investigation into a report of battery filed at 1:40 p.m. May 20, but have 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.
The Coast News was 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 Sunday who confirmed that Graham was at the bar that Sunday into the early hours on Monday. One security guard said that Graham frequents the bar.
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. She also said she wasn’t sure if what he did was criminal.
“I was literally shocked, I thought to myself, ‘Are people still doing this?’” she said.
Burgan said she was referring to the aftermath of the #MeToo movement, the international movement against sexual harassment and assault that has seen powerful individuals in media, politics and entertainment exposed for similar behavior.
Thad Kousser, a political science professor at UC San Diego, said that while not speaking on the merits of the accusation, that even the specter of an allegation surrounding a candidate might resonate with the electorate given the impact of the #MeToo movement.
“Knowing nothing about the veracity of this particular allegation, any allegation of harassment connects a candidate to an issue which is at the top of voters’ minds right now,” Kousser said. “These issues can no longer be swept under the carpet in any campaign.”