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Four Men Accuse San Diego Unified Trustee Kevin Beiser of Sexual Misconduct, Abuse

San Diego Unified School Board Member Kevin Beiser speaks at San Diego's Hote...

Credit: Spark Photography

Above: San Diego Unified School Board Member Kevin Beiser speaks at San Diego's Hotel Republic, Nov. 6, 2018.

GUEST: Andrew Keatts, reporter, Voice of San Diego

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Transcript

This story has been updated to include a response from Kevin Beiser.

Paul Crawford was young and ambitious when he started getting involved in local politics. As a gay man living in Chula Vista, he started with the networks he had in the South Bay and the LBGTQ community.

That’s how he met Kevin Beiser, a San Diego Unified School District trustee. Beiser is also a middle school teacher in Chula Vista, and has opened a committee to run for City Council.

Crawford was excited when Beiser invited him to a pool party at his home. Beiser told him there was a guy he wanted to set him up with, Crawford said.

But when Crawford got there, it was clear the man he was ostensibly there to meet was totally indifferent. They barely spoke before the man left.

That’s when Crawford said he had a sexual encounter with Beiser that he did not want, and can’t shake.

“I was violated,” Crawford said. “Was I raped? No, I don’t think I was raped. I’m not scarred for life. But I’ll never forget it.”

Crawford said Beiser followed him into the bathroom and propositioned him for a threesome with another man. He said he declined, telling Beiser he had never done anything like that. But Beiser directed him into the bedroom anyway, where the other man joined them. Crawford then said he lay down on the bed, closed his eyes and lay still while both men performed sexual acts on him.

He said he kept his eyes closed tightly the entire time. Then Beiser lay next to him and masturbated. When he finished, Crawford said, Beiser leaned over and pried his eyelids open.

“He told me I was a good boy,” Crawford said.

Shortly later, he got dressed and called for a car to take him home. He later told his mom, who he lives with. She confirmed that he told her the same story after the fact.

Crawford is one of four men – all young, all politically ambitious, all early in their careers – who say they experienced sexual harassment or unwanted sexual touching from Beiser. Three of them detailed their encounters on the record to Voice of San Diego. One spoke to us anonymously.

One of those men has now filed a lawsuit against Beiser alleging sexual assault and sexual harassment. The other three men shared stories that include substantial similarities to some of the accusations spelled out in the lawsuit, including unwanted groping of their genitalia, invitations to Beiser’s pool and hot tub and uncomfortable interactions in which Beiser leveraged his political influence.

After the lawsuit was filed, the San Diego County Democratic Party announced it would vote on a resolution Tuesday night calling for Beiser’s resignation.

All of the men who spoke to Voice of San Diego were deeply involved in local politics at the time of their encounters with Beiser – two have themselves run for office in recent years. None has run against Beiser or could be considered his political competition. Many of their interactions with Beiser took place in social settings that were related to the political world.

The four men originally shared their story with Voice of San Diego as a group during a February interview. The group was organized by Eva Posner, a Democratic political consultant who was running the Chula Vista City Council campaign of one of the accusers at the time that he says he was groped by Beiser.

“My friends came to me with terrible stories of harassment, manipulation and abuse of power,” Posner wrote in a statement, referring to the stories the men described to VOSD. “I believe them. When they decided it was time to share their stories in an attempt to protect others from the same fate, I helped them. I would do it again. Politicians are not above basic standards of human decency.”

Voice of San Diego conducted follow-up interviews with the four men individually, and has corroborated their accounts with others with knowledge of the events, such as friends and family members they told at the time.

“There is no truth to these allegations,” Beiser said in a statement sent after this story initially published. “We believe they are politically motivated and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves,” he wrote, referring to the accusers.

‘I really didn’t want to do it’

In July 2017, Crawford said Beiser invited him to hang out at the pool and hot tub the next day at his Mission Valley home. Beiser showed him a picture of a friend with whom he wanted to set up Crawford. Crawford said the friend seemed attractive and he decided to go.

“His friend was nice, but what I thought was odd was that his friend had no interest in even introducing himself to me,” he said. “He wasn’t even talking to me and I was like, ‘I thought I was here for him.’” The friend left early.

Crawford said there were two sliding doors from the pool area. One led to the living room. The other led to a bathroom that was connected to the master bedroom. It made for a convenient poolside bathroom.

While Crawford was washing his hands, he said Beiser came in and propositioned him for a threesome.

“I’m like, ‘You know, I really don’t know, I don’t want to do that, I don’t feel comfortable, it’s just not something I want to do,’” Crawford recalled telling Beiser. “Then he said, ‘Oh, come on,’ and I said, ‘No, I think I’m going to go home.’ Then he took my shoulders – not aggressively – but he took them as far as directing me into the room, and so I did it.”

Crawford said he suffers from anxiety and does not like confrontation. His mother, Connie Crawford – who confirmed her son told her about the encounter after it happened – said her son struggled all his life with being unable to confront people.

That, she said, was why she had always worried that he would get into a sexual situation that he couldn’t stop.

“One thing I wasn’t willing to do was force myself out of the situation, or scream,” he said. “I kind of just kept quiet.”

The other man came into the room, Crawford said, “and they told me to take off my clothes, so I did.”

“I did close my eyes the whole time, because I really didn’t want to do it,” Crawford said. “I had never done a three-way, and I just don’t feel comfortable in that situation. I just didn’t want to move. I closed my eyes.”

Crawford said he does not blame the other man involved in the encounter.

“I really don’t think that he’s at fault at all, because I think he was misled from the get-go, and it seemed I had consented to having a three-some,” he said.

Crawford said that at one point toward the end of the encounter, “Beiser was prying my eyes open. And then he stared at me when he did that and he said I was a good boy.”

Afterward, Crawford said he went into the bathroom to get changed and clean up. He said he played it off like everything was fine because he didn’t want a confrontation.

Crawford and his mother differed on some of their recollections of what happened immediately after. Paul Crawford said he called an Uber, and waited for it at the corner to get away from the house. Connie Crawford said she remembered picking her son up from the house.

Once home, Crawford reached out to a fellow politically active gay man who lives in Chula Vista, Patrick Macfarland. Macfarland ran unsuccessfully for the Chula Vista City Council last year.

That night, Macfarland and Crawford went to Third Avenue Ale House in downtown Chula Vista to talk. Crawford said it was hard to explain what had happened.

“I explained it to Patrick that I didn’t find it to be rape, because whenever I think of that word, I think it’s more violent,” he said. “So I just feel like I was violated. Raped? No, I don’t think I was raped. I don’t know how anyone wants to term that, but it wasn’t something I wanted to consent to. (It was) something I wanted to get out of, wanted to forget. I think I’m fortunate enough to say I’m not scarred for life. There are plenty of people who have it far worse after living their life after a traumatic situation.”

Macfarland said it was clear Crawford was confused and troubled, and was trying to make sense of what had happened.

Connie and Paul Crawford also provided slightly different accounts of when he told her what happened. She said he told her a few days after the incident, after she had noticed that he was acting depressed and not like himself. But Crawford remembers telling her the night that it happened. They both said that she cried all night.

But when it came to Crawford’s encounter with Beiser, Connie Crawford did recall the same details she said Paul had told her as the ones Paul told VOSD: that he’d gone to the restroom and that Beiser presented an offer of a threesome, and that Paul had said he was uninterested.

“The thing with my son, watching all the things he’s gone through growing up, he’s not aggressive in any way,” she said. “He’s not confrontational in any way. That’s why I was always so protective when he was younger.”

Connie Crawford said she went to her bedroom so that her son wouldn’t see how upset she was.

“As a mother, his whole life I protected him from people … this time I couldn’t. And it happened. And it happened as an adult. It’s just the way he is, the way he’s built, his makeup. But he’s such a wonderful person that it broke my heart. He just wanted more friends.”

Crawford said he saw Beiser again a few months later, at the county Democratic Party’s convention is Escondido in October 2017.

There, he said, he was waiting for an Uber outside the venue when Beiser was arriving to the event. Beiser suggested that instead of going home, he could give him a ride to his house, where they could hang out and Crawford could take an Uber home from there.

Crawford said he told him he wasn’t feeling well and that he just wanted to go home. Then his Uber pulled up.

“He gave me a hug, and I didn’t feel comfortable doing it,” Crawford said. “He hugged me really tight, he started kissing my neck.”

Besides that, he said, they haven’t talked much. Occasionally, Beiser reaches out through Facebook Messenger or text to invite him to pool parties, Crawford said. He said he has talked to the other man, because he thinks he’s a nice guy who didn’t know what had really happened.

Crawford said he’d mostly pushed the encounter to the back of his mind until he got a call in January from a “political friend” who had heard about what happened. Crawford wouldn’t disclose who that friend was, but said the friend told him that other people had been victimized by Beiser and encouraged him to go public.

Crawford said he was convinced it was important to provide awareness of situations involving people in power, and cited California Democratic Party leader Eric Bauman, who was forced to resign last year amid multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.

“It really is the politics thing. In 2017, it was my first year getting involved in politics, and I really wanted to get involved,” Crawford said. “And (Beiser), he’s kind of a powerhouse and he’s kind of a big deal. When I first met him he was very nice, and I thought it was really cool to have someone to, you know, who’s gay and is a politician. He could give me advice, but I didn’t really think this was going to happen.”

‘I want a future in politics’

When Crawford shared his story with his friend Patrick Macfarland, it was not a shock to MacFarland.

He’d had his own troubling experience with Beiser, Macfarland told VOSD.

Macfarland didn’t know Beiser very well when they were sharing a car in Sacramento during the state Democratic Party’s 2017 convention. Macfarland met Beiser in 2010 when Macfarland was running for the San Diego Unified school board, before he dropped out of that race. He hadn’t seen him for years, until 2016, when he got back into the political world.

During the convention, Macfarland said he didn’t really know anyone, and Beiser took him under his wing, showing him around and introducing him to powerful Democrats.

By the end of the night, Macfarland’s husband at the time was at a gay bar. Macfarland was going to meet him, and invited Beiser to come along.

“We got into the Lyft and he touched my leg and slid his hand up into my crotch area,” Macfarland said of Beiser. “That’s when I kind of paused, looked at him, grabbed his hand and I said, ‘No!’ and flung his hand away.”

Beiser got to the bar, had a drink and left. When MacFarland and his husband were on the way home, he said Beiser sent him his hotel address and room number.

After the convention, in June 2017, Macfarland said Beiser apologized. Later, at the local party convention in Escondido in October, Beiser again apologized. Beiser said he was out of line, Macfarland recalls, and that he was sorry for making him feel uncomfortable.

Macfarland said he brushed it off and said, “It’s fine, whatever.”

“I just didn’t want to deal with it,” Macfarland said. “He acknowledged it. He acknowledged that he did something wrong.”

After the encounter, Macfarland told a few friends.

One of them was Chula Vista Councilman Steve Padilla. Padilla is also gay, and he and Macfarland have become close friends through the Chula Vista and LGBTQ political worlds, Padilla said. In an interview, Padilla confirmed Macfarland told him about the night with Beiser, and recounted details consistent with MacFarland’s story.

Right after the convention, Padilla said, Macfarland told him that he and Beiser were in a vehicle in Sacramento and that Beiser had “put his hand where it didn’t belong.”

“My distinct impression at the time was, it was not traumatic to Patrick, but it was clearly creepy and unwelcome,” Padilla said. Padilla said he and Macfarland then discussed what they should do about it, but Macfarland said it should be confidential, which Padilla respected, Padilla recalled.

Democratic Party activists Sara Kent, Ricardo Ochoa and Brenda Arnold in separate interviews all confirmed Macfarland had shared with them the same story of the encounter.

In spring 2018, with the June primary approaching, Kent said the rumor mill started ramping up and people in the party started hearing that Macfarland had a story about something that happened with Beiser.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people know that it’s me,” Macfarland said.

One person who remembers catching wind of the rumors was Jess Durfee, a Democratic National Committee member and the former chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party.

In July 2018, Macfarland said Durfee called him, and then texted him that they should talk. The following week, they ran into each other at a Democrats for Equality meeting. In an interview, Durfee confirmed that he saw Macfarland at a meeting and approached him to talk about what he had heard.

“I ran into him outside of a meeting and I said, ‘I heard this, is this true, is this something to be concerned about?’” Durfee said. “He said that it wasn’t true and that he didn’t know the source of the rumors or why. That was the extent of my involvement.”

Macfarland said Durfee asked him about a specific rumor that was not true. Macfarland told Durfee what he’d heard wasn’t true, and said Durfee then asked if there was anything else he should know about.

“I want a future in politics,” Macfarland said. “Kevin Beiser is one of the most powerful men in San Diego, he can raise $80,000 in a non-campaign. And he has powerful friends behind him. So I was going back and forth in my mind, do I say something? Finally I said, ‘You know what, nothing happened.’”

He said Durfee responded that if nothing had happened, Macfarland should reassure Beiser that he wasn’t going to say anything publicly about him. Macfarland said he later texted Beiser and said, “nothing happened. Don’t worry. Just stop.”

Durfee said it’s possible he encouraged Macfarland to reach out to Beiser.

“I thought it was odd that the loop hadn’t been closed with Kevin,” he said. “I might have said that.”

Nicole Murray-Ramirez, a longtime LGBTQ advocate in San Diego, said he had never heard any allegations against Beiser. But he did say that he was once asked by young political types for advice about whether they should attend a pool party at Beiser’s home that they had been invited to.

“I said that was not a good idea,” Murray-Ramirez said.

He said young people who were getting their start in politics were excited to have been invited over by a pool party by a powerful person, who at the time was president of the San Diego Unified school board. He simply didn’t think it was a good idea, Murray-Ramirez said.

On Tuesday, Murray-Ramirez came to Beiser’s defense on Twitter, writing that Beiser “is innocent until proven guilty,” in reaction to the lawsuit filing.

After the November 2018 election, Macfarland and Beiser spoke again, and Beiser told him that he felt guilty about not contributing to his City Council campaign. Macfarland said Beiser told him that he would donate a lot to his next race, and told him that he would save some campaign work for him the next time Beiser was running.

That wasn’t the end of the rumor mill, though. At the beginning of this year, the San Diego Democratic Party elected a new chair. During that race, an anonymous letter was sent to members of the party. The letter accused one of the candidates of supporting Beiser even after he knew about sexual harassment allegations against him.

All four men say they do not know who wrote the letter, and that they opposed the way it came out. They said it was disrespectful to have their stories used as campaign fodder without their permission.

Lawsuit alleges assault, harassment

This week, another accuser who worked as Beiser’s campaign manager for his 2014 school board re-election campaign and who did consulting work for Beiser’s 2018 re-election campaign, filed a lawsuit against Beiser. The accuser is listed only as John Doe in the suit.

Before the complaint was filed, Doe shared his story with Voice of San Diego on the condition of anonymity.

Doe began working for Beiser during his 2014 re-election bid, but had met him a year earlier, in June 2013, while he was interning in D.C. for Rep. Susan Davis, according to the complaint.

Doe said he emailed Beiser to tell him that he would like to work on his re-election campaign the following year, and Beiser invited him to JR’s Bar, a D.C. gay bar.

Beiser said he would be there with friends, according to the lawsuit, but it was just the two of them for most of their time. Doe got drunk, he said, thinking Beiser was doing the same, but he now believes he was the only one drinking.

“When (the former campaign manager) was incapacitated by alcohol, Mr. Beiser took him to a hotel and sodomized him,” the complaint reads.

The complaint alleges that the next morning, Doe expressed regret over what happened, and that Beiser then promised him work once they got back to San Diego. It says that this felt to the campaign manager like a quid pro quo offer in exchange for not taking legal action.

Doe did not disclose the D.C. encounter during his interview with Voice of San Diego.

He did, however, describe that during Beiser’s 2014 campaign, which he was running, Beiser would “come on to me a lot.” Doe said he would tell Beiser to stop, that he was his boss and a mentor and that he did not view him sexually. But still, Beiser would rub his leg against his if they were sitting next to each other at a meeting, or play footsie with him, he said.

The lawsuit describes other unwanted contact, such as Beiser offering oral sex, offering to give him a full-body massage, urging him “to hook up with gay dudes,” plying him with drinks and marijuana, reminiscing about the incident in D.C., and asking him to skinny dip in Beiser’s pool and hot tub.

Doe said this behavior came after “continually saying, ‘I’m not interested, I don’t want this,’ making it a fairly uncomfortable work environment for me, to the point that it just wouldn’t stop,” he said. “After the campaign was over, I distanced myself from him.”

In 2016, when Doe was himself running for office, the lawsuit alleges that the unwanted advances picked up again.

“It’s kind of like, he’s creepy, I just kept patting him off and he was tolerable,” Doe said.

The lawsuit describes an incident in May 2016, in which Beiser grinded against Doe with his clothes on and grabbed his genitals.

After that happened, Doe and his ex-girlfriend confronted Beiser and told him to never do that again, according to the lawsuit.

During the initial February interview with Voice of San Diego, Doe said an incident in spring 2017 had led to the confrontation with Beiser. He also did not mention that Beiser grabbed his genitals. His ex-girlfriend, however, described to VOSD the 2016 incident as it is described in the lawsuit, including that it took place just before the June 2016 primary. In a follow-up interview, Doe said he had initially been mistaken, and that the incident he said happened in 2017 had actually taken place in May 2016, and that Beiser grabbed his genitals.

His ex-girlfriend recalled that on the night of the 2016 incident, Doe “just seemed a little off, and quiet for a bit, and later that evening he opened up to me and shared that Kevin had grabbed him by the balls, without his consent.”

Doe said it took him re-living the events in recent weeks to recall exactly what happened and when.

Finally, in April 2018, according to the lawsuit, Beiser informed Doe that he was not going to use his consulting services anymore. Doe thought it was in response to telling Beiser in a text message not to come on to him anymore. The lawsuit says Doe went to Beiser’s house to pick up his paycheck, and that Beiser laid him down on the bed, took Doe’s pants off and that Doe “submitted to his unwanted touch.”

Doe did not discuss that encounter with Voice of San Diego.

‘I felt extremely uncomfortable’

Luke Pakter was in college in the fall of 2017 when he started working for Doe, who at that point was trying to start a political action committee that would be active in the 2018 elections.

Beiser was going to put money into the effort, “to help us get started,” Pakter said.

Pakter arranged to go to Beiser’s house to pick up a check for the PAC and to talk strategy. Pakter recalled that the check was “a substantial amount of money.”

Doe and Pakter needed the check, Pakter said, because Doe couldn’t afford to pay Pakter, who had bills stacking up. The check was going to cover Pakter’s rent, he said.

Pakter – who now lives in New York – said Beiser was very flirtatious as the two sat in Beiser’s living room. Pakter said he kept touching his knee.

When he got up to leave, Beiser invited him to a pool party at his house that weekend.

Then, as Pakter tried to shake his hand, Beiser said, “No, we’re buddies, come in and give me a hug,” Pakter recalled.

When he was hugging him, Pakter said Beiser held on to him and started feeling his biceps and “really started feeling me up.” He wiggled out of the hug, and Beiser started massaging his shoulders and back.

That’s when Beiser whispered in his ear that he should stay and hang out for a little bit, Pakter said.

“I was getting nervous because I had never been in a situation like that, so I felt extremely uncomfortable and I didn’t know how to deal with the situation,” Pakter said.

Beiser closed the door and continued massaging him, Pakter said.

Then Beiser made a proposition that made Pakter even more uncomfortable.

“He knew that I was in a tough financial position,” he said, reiterating that the check he was picking up was meant to pay his rent.

Beiser then told Pakter that “if I ever want to come over and give him a massage or anything, we could arrange something where he could give me a few hundred bucks to massage him. I think I said, ‘maybe, we’ll see,’ because I was so uncomfortable,” Pakter said.

When Pakter left and got in the car, he was hyperventilating.

He called Doe, and told him what happened.

Beiser texted Pakter shortly afterward to apologize. Pakter said he responded that he didn’t mind, but that Beiser “couldn’t be doing that shit with people” because not everyone would handle it the way he did.

“This happened at like the heat of #MeToo,” Pakter said, referring to a wave of high-profile incidents and awareness involving powerful men engaging in abuse and harassment. “It was on everyone’s mind, and I brought that up.”

Pakter said that was his last interaction with Beiser. He saw him at an event after that, but avoided him.

Photo caption: Voice of San Diego logo

Voice of San Diego logo

Andrew Keatts is assistant editor and senior investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. He can be reached directly at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529.

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