“Keep making me famous,” responded El Cajon city councilman Ben Kalasho to 10 of the 14 public speakers at the July 10 city council meeting.
Calls for Kalasho's resignation made up most of the meeting along with talk of the scandals including allegations he has:
-treated young women in his beauty pageant like sex slaves,
-publicized fake nude pictures of one,
-offered pageant crown to another in exchange for sex,
-made demeaning comments about others
-told the 2017 contestants to call him God;
-along with numerous allegations of fraud and retaliation.
The latest allegation comes from East County Magazine reporter Paul Kruze, who told the city council Kalasho threatened him with a “lethal barking and snarling weapon.”
Kruze and Kalasho crossed paths in a Parkway Plaza parking lot Saturday evening, June 23. They each tell different stories.
Kalasho directs me to a video he posted on Facebook titled “Death of Journalism.” He addresses the incident and talks about which media he approves of and which he does not.
He says he and his wife Jessica left Office Depot and walked to their parking spot when he noticed Kruze zoned in on his wife from 150 feet away taking pictures. He says Kruze then advanced toward her and came within 15 feet still taking pictures.
Jessica posted that she asked Kruze who he was and as he continued to get closer he gave no response.
Kalasho says he thought Kruze intended to harm his wife so he brought his six-month-old German shepherd from the back of his vehicle and used him as a “a barrier to the danger I perceived.” Kalasho asks, “What's the alternative? Have my wife hurt? No I'd rather my dog maul him.... I know what I signed up for. But you don't come barging toward my wife, not now, not ever.”
Kalasho admits he recognized Kruze as a news reporter who covers city council meetings and did not explain what made him think Kruze was only interested in his wife. A Google search reveals at least six news articles Kruze has written about Kalasho in the past year.
As reported in the Union Tribune, Kruze says he was taking pictures of the Kalasho campaign vehicle. He says he told the Kalashos at the time that he was a photojournalist within his rights to take pictures. Kruze says it was Kalasho who advanced toward him laughing while his dog was barking and snarling and that he was standing 40 feet away when Kalasho closed that distance to 10-12 feet.
Kruze says as he retreated into his car Kalasho continued to close in on him with the dog. “I was terrified beyond belief,” Kruze is quoted as saying. Kruze says Kalasho then said to him, “I’m going to take you down.”
Other than the two testimonies, the only evidence of the incident that has been publicized is a picture Kruze took that shows the Kalasho campaign vehicle and Jessica in the far right of the frame, but does not include Ben or his dog Zoltan, and pictures Kalasho published that shows Kruze facing them holding a camera with a light on and another of the license plate of Kruze’s car, which Kalasho posted to Facebook.
The San Diego Society of Professional Journalists issued a statement defending Kruze and calling on the El Cajon Police Department to do a thorough investigation.
The El Cajon Police Department say they are looking into the reports.
The incident provided fresh motivation for people to show up at the city council meeting and demand Kalasho’s resignation. Kalasho laughed at some, cringed before others and seemed to pay attention to a few.
Taylor Abeel said to Kalasho. “I do not believe you are fit to make ethical decisions on our behalf. We risk the rights and freedoms we hold dear when we compromise our moral integrity.”
Zachary Wickholm said, “As someone who enjoys being a photographer, knowing that people like me have been threatened by someone in power makes me very angry.”
Nathan Cornett stated, “This is not a Democrat or a Republican issue. This is a bipartisan issue. Ben... Your attempt to bully and intimidate people who don’t agree with you is not welcome in our city.”
East County Magazine editor Miriam Raftery stated: “Mr. Kalasho had no issue with [us] when the news was positive about his town halls and other things, but as his legal and ethical issues grew and we reported them he began attacking us....We will not be silenced.” She concluded, “Other councils have censured people for far less.”
Jim Sittiglerno was the only public speaker to defend Kalasho: “I didn’t know this was going to be the Ben Kalasho hour here today. But Mr. Kalasho has been nothing but supportive as far as our issues with our rent mediation and being willing to learn.”
Phil Ortiz said to Kalasho: “You have sparked disunity when East County has been known for unity for decades. Nobody hates you, Ben, they disapprove of you.”
El Cajon City Planning Commissioner Tony Sotille told Kalasho: “Repentance is a gift from God and I pray God will give you that gift.”