Get local, investigative reporting in your inbox.
edited by Lorie Hearn | inewsource
Two weeks after the contentious faceoff in the 52nd Congressional District race, the spokesman for Carl DeMaio’s campaign said KPBS and other news outlets were duped by an impostor in stories about a second DeMaio staffer accusing him of sexual harassment.
Dave McCulloch charged that KPBS had not spoken to the real Justin Harper, a campaign aide who put his name to his allegations just two days before the Nov. 4 election. McCulloch contended the source of the story was someone pretending to be Harper who wanted to smear DeMaio.
When asked if he was suggesting that the Harper KPBS and other news outlets interviewed “is not the real Justin Harper,” McCulloch responded, “I am.” His response was part of a San Diego Society of Professional Journalists panel on Tuesday evening analyzing election coverage.
KPBS published and aired a story about Harper’s allegations on Nov. 2 after corresponding by email, phone and social media with Harper, who now lives near Cincinnati. KPBS backgrounded him and requested documents, which he provided, including emails he received from DeMaio’s campaign manager and a recommendation letter DeMaio wrote for Harper after he quit the campaign.
KPBS concluded he was the Harper who had worked for the DeMaio campaign.
McCulloch was not convinced. He said KPBS should have asked Harper to video chat and show his ID to verify his identity.
“Why can’t you just do a Skype and show your ID and put this entire issue to rest?” McCulloch said during the panel. “To put it to rest, all you’d have to say is just show me your ID, show me you are who you say you are.”
Wednesday, Harper offered to do just that with KPBS.
Harper did a Skype call from a Cincinnati Starbucks and showed his California and Ohio driver’s licenses. KPBS blurred the address in the Skype video showing his Ohio license.
Harper said he did not know why McCulloch claimed he wasn’t real.
“I’m confused by (their response),” he said. “I don’t know why they’d go that way.”
He added that he’s talked to McCulloch, and “Dave knows I’m real.”
McCulloch did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.
Harper, a 25-year-old Navy veteran, said DeMaio exposed himself to him on July 10 in the office restroom at DeMaio’s Miramar campaign headquarters.
“I was at the urinal, and (DeMaio) came from the stall that was closest to the urinal and was kind of just standing there hovering,” Harper said. “I turned around and realized that it was Carl. He had his pants up, but his fly was undone, and he had his hand over, not over, grasping his genitals.”
Harper said he then left the campaign office without speaking to anyone. He said he went home to his apartment in Oceanside and stayed in bed for the next two days.
When KPBS first contacted McCulloch on Nov. 2, a Sunday, about Harper’s allegations, McCulloch made the argument that KPBS had been duped, but it was off the record.
When asked for an on-the-record response, McCulloch issued a statement that read in part, “KPBS is reckless in reporting this outrageous lie because our office has not even had a urinal to use — a fact confirmed to KPBS by our landlord.”
JD Bols, the landlord for the office complex where the DeMaio headquarters is located, told KPBS that there is only one urinal in the second floor men’s room, and it has been broken since January and has been covered with plastic wrap.
Harper said the urinal was not broken at the time of the incident. A receptionist for Babies First Ultrasound, another business in the office complex, also said the urinal was not broken on Nov. 2.
Bols contributed nearly $4,000 to DeMaio’s congressional campaign.