Law enforcement is investigating State Representative Zach Fansler for assaulting a woman earlier this month. The Juneau Empire reports that Rep. Fansler slapped the woman in the face repeatedly, rupturing her eardrum, when she denied his sexual advances. He then tried to keep her from leaving his hotel room.
Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon is calling for Rep. Fansler’s resignation, and the Juneau Police Department is continuing to investigate the alleged assault. On Saturday, KYUK’s Teresa Cotsirilos interviewed James Brooks, the reporter who broke this story. Please note that this interview has been condensed for time.
KYUK: How did you first hear about this story?
James Brooks: I heard about this because I was at a fundraiser here in Juneau and a woman that I know, we were talking and she had mentioned she had a ruptured ear drum. I commiserated with her, but I didn't ask her at that time what had happened. And then a few days later she sent me a message saying, ‘Hey, do you have some time to talk?’ And that's when she opened up about what had happened.
KYUK: Let’s walk through what this woman told you. What was her relationship with him?
James Brooks: She and he had been flirting and had a romantic interest as far back as June. That didn't go very far, from my understanding, because the end of the special session came. It picked up again once he came back into town for the regular session, here, in January. They were both drinking. From what I'm told he was drinking heavily, and so she escorted him back up to his hotel room where he was staying. Then they were kissing and she was a little reluctant. She was trying to put him to bed and she says that he was interested in something more. That's when she says he hit her, pulled her hair. According to his text messages that he sent [her] later, this was some sort of BDSM kink.
KYUK: What was her reaction to this?
James Brooks: So, she was really uncomfortable. She realized, ‘Okay, this is not about resuming a relationship later. This is about let me get out of here.’ And so she tried, and eventually did, get out of that room after about 45 minutes to an hour.
KYUK: And then walk me through what happened the next day. She realized she was pretty seriously hurt, right?
James Brooks: Right. He attempted to apologize the next day, asked if he could take her out to dinner and a movie as an apology. She said that probably wasn't the best idea, and when she was still feeling hurt at the end of that day she said, 'Okay, I'm going to go to a doctor on Monday.' And they diagnosed her with a ruptured eardrum.
KYUK: James, is there anything in particular in your interview with this woman that particularly stuck with you?
James Brooks: I think the biggest thing for me is that reading through her text messages, I get a sense of what she was feeling. And you always expect someone to realize immediately after the fact that something serious has happened. I guess when you're in a car accident you know, ‘Hey I've just been in a car accident.’ But she said that there tends to be a sense of downplaying. You want to say, ‘Oh it wasn't that bad; it couldn't have been as bad as I remember.’ And she concluded after thinking for a while that yes, it was serious, and that was why she went to the police; that was why she contacted me. Because she felt that it shouldn’t be hidden.
KYUK: Did this woman say that this is the first time this had happened between her and Representative Fansler, or was this part of a pattern?
James Brooks: This was the first time, which is why she thought it was so disturbing, shocking, unusual.
KUK: Were you surprised by this?
James Brooks: I was surprised by this. I did cover the Dean Westlake case. I covered the incident involving Senator David Wilson. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to have this come from a legislator, but I hadn't gotten that vibe about Representative Fansler. It makes me wonder, was this just a thing that got out of hand because he had been drinking? Or is this something more serious?
KYUK: Do you think more people will come forward?
James Brooks: If it is a pattern, I would hope that people would. That people have the confidence and faith that they would not be ignored. And I'd like to think that for all cases, not just this one.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article referred to Bryce Edgmon as the House Majority Leader. He is the Speaker of the Hosue. We regret the error.