El Cajon City Councilman Ben Kalasho threatened East County Magazine reporter Paul Kruze and menaced the journalist with an aggressive dog, according to a statement that Kruze made to police in El Cajon, California, on June 23, 2018.
Kruze told the police that he was exiting a Best Buy on June 23 when he spotted Kalasho’s election vehicle in the parking lot and stopped to take photos.
Kruze told the police that Kalasho told him to stop taking pictures, and then approached him with an attack dog. Kruze said that Kalasho and the dog advanced on him from 40 feet away to within 10 to 12 feet, before he was able to unlock his car door and enter the safety of his vehicle.
“I proceed to my car and he keeps coming closer to me with the dog and letting the dog lurch at me,” Kruze said in an interview with Freedom of the Press Foundation, adding that he feared Kalasho might release the chain on the dog and let it attack him.
“This is stuff you go to see horror movies about,” he said.
During the incident, he said, Kalasho called him a fake journalist and verbally threatened both him and East County Magazine editor Miriam Raftery. Raftery told Freedom of the Press Foundation that Kruze called her shortly after the incident.
“When Paul called me, his voice was trembling and he was obviously terrified,” she said. “I was worried about his safety and my own, especially since Paul said Kalasho told him, with the dog snarling lunging toward him, ‘I’m going to take you down and that bitch, Miriam Raftery.'”
On June 24, the day after the parking lot incident, Kalasho published a Facebook post about Kruze, whom he described as a “deranged psychopath” and “lunatic” who was stalking him.
“I did research and found that this so called journalist made a Youtube channel whereby most all of his videos are about me,” Kalasho wrote in the post, which was later deleted. “He even posted a video of me training my dog, and other montage videos of me speaking ranging different dates. This infatuation he has with me is creepy to say the least.”
Kalasho wrote that he had contacted the police and planned to seek a restraining order against the journalist.
A number of Kalasho’s supporters commented on the Facebook post, expressing concern for the councilman’s safety. Some encouraged Kalasho to use violence against Kruze.
“You should get your CCW [concealed carry license],” one commenter wrote.
“Once you become a public figure, you lose most of your rights,” Kalasho replied. “Trust me, had I had a CCW, I would have been on CNN today doing interviews from behind bars.”
Another supporter published a photo of a gun, accompanied by the text, “I would much rather go my grave never needing my gun, than go there wishing I had it.” Kalasho replied, “#Truth.”
Kruze said that it was scary to see Kalasho encouraging supporters’ violent threats against him.
“He just kept on inciting these different followers of his, and then the people started posting,” Kruze said. “There were people saying you should go after this guy. Then they started posting pictures of guns, and then it ended up with another guy who was an optometrist in Ramona, California, suggesting that a .357 caliber bullet be used on me,” Kruze said. “I’ll tell you that finally, that particular post, and the whole Facebook post, it finally hit me. It hit me… All the sudden this is what people talk about for real, and that is damn scary.”
On July 10, Kalasho went after Kruze again, this time in a Facebook video.
In the video, Kalasho says that he threatened Kruze with his dog because he thought Kruze might be carrying a weapon.
“Looking at this person that was approaching my wife and I, like, I don’t know him from Adam,” Kalasho says in the video. “I don’t know if he had a knife, or a gun or anything on him. And every cue and everything that he did lead me to believe that he was going to inflict harm to me or my family. So I used my dog. And anybody listening, watching this just play it through, what’s the alternative? The alternative is having my wife hurt? No, I’d rather my dog maul him, like literally.”
On July 13, the San Diego Society of Professional Journalists issued a statement, defending the rights of journalists and calling on the El Cajon Police Department to fully investigate the attack:
The San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is greatly concerned by the behavior of El Cajon City Councilman Ben Kalasho toward East County Magazine reporter Paul Kruze, as alleged in Kruze’s statements to the police. Threatening or intimidating journalists is unacceptable behavior from any member of the public — but especially from elected officials.
Journalists have a right to do their jobs without fear of violence. We urge the El Cajon Police Department to fully investigate the incident that took place on June 23 between Councilman Kalasho and Mr. Kruze. Our institutions and elected officials must do everything they can to ensure the safety of journalists in the exercise of our collective First Amendment right to a free press.
San Diego SPJ statement on incident
Kalasho has a history of threatening East County Magazine. In November 2017, after the paper wrote about allegations of corruption and sexual harassment made against him, he threatened a libel suit against East County Magazine and then tried to smear the publication on social media.
On July 18, the San Diego SPJ chapter presented Raftery and Kruze with the Gloria Penner Award for political reporting, in recognition of East County Magazine's investigative reporting on Kalasho.