Beaten by a legislator: Juneau woman accuses lawmaker of violent attack

Rep. Zach Fansler denies allegation, but text messages show he admitted guilt and apologized to woman

Local police and the Alaska Department of Law are investigating an Alaska state lawmaker for allegedly hitting a woman and rupturing her eardrum during a drunken attack at a hotel room.

 

The Juneau woman making the accusation, whom the Empire is not naming, said Rep. Zach Fansler, a Democrat from Bethel, struck her twice on her face with an open hand following a night out drinking at downtown Juneau bars on Jan. 13.

Fansler did not comment, despite efforts on behalf of the Empire to reach him. No one answered a knock on his hotel room door, and he did not respond to text messages or phone calls seeking comment.

“He denies the allegation, but other than that, we don’t plan to make any statement,” attorney Wallace Tetlow of Anchorage said, calling the Empire soon after it attempted to reach Fansler.

After additional questions from the Empire, Tetlow said, “a request has been made for a resignation, but that’s where it’s at right now.”

Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon said in an official statement Saturday that he has asked for Fansler’s resignation.

“Credible information came to my attention yesterday afternoon that Rep. Fansler had possibly behaved in a manner unbecoming of a legislator,” the statement said.

Edgmon also thanked the woman for coming forward: “It takes intense bravery to bring these matters forward. I am honored and deeply grateful for her strength and courage.”

The Empire does not typically identify victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse, and the woman asked that her name be withheld. She is a state employee who does not work at the Capitol but is well-known in Democratic circles.

The woman said she began a romantic relationship with Fansler in June, but the end of the extended special session precluded that relationship from developing. When Fansler returned to Juneau in January, they resumed their flirtation, she said.

On the evening of Jan. 13, the woman was drinking with Fansler at The Triangle, a downtown bar. The two separated for a time; she went to another bar to see friends, then Fansler invited her by text to The Alaskan bar.

After some time, she said Fansler became drunk, and she took him to his room at the Alaskan Hotel. When they got there, the woman said they kissed and Fansler made additional sexual advances, but she was reluctant.

“It was not pleasant or enjoyable, but it was not uncomfortable,” she told the Empire in one of a series of interviews. “I was like, OK, I will try to redirect his drunkenness.”

According to the woman, she tried to direct him to bed in hopes that he would fall asleep.

“That was not a tactic that was working, and he was pulling my hair and then hit me, slapped me twice, on each side of my face,” she said.

Her goal switched to escaping as soon as possible.

“I started crying and I got up to leave … and he got up, and I think he was trying to hug me, but he grabbed me so I couldn’t leave,” she said. “So I went back to the bed … and I was like, if I can just get him to go to sleep, then I can get out of here.”

That didn’t work, but she managed to leave the room — with Fansler still awake — in the wee hours of Jan. 14.

In text messages to her later that day, Fansler asked if he could take her to a dinner and a movie to make it up to her. She declined.

“I didn’t realize I was that messed up (from the attack) until the next night, and I was like, this is not getting any better,” she said.

She went to Juneau Urgent Care on the following day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and the admitting form provided to the Empire states that it was for “ear trauma with possible TM rupture.”

She said she did not realize the extent of her injury at first and initially tried to downplay it.

“I had no plans the next day to go to police or tell anybody about this … but especially seeing what he did to my ear — I was like, there’s a huge (hole) in my eardrum — that’s serious,” she said.

After the woman, in a lengthy text message to Fansler, said she wanted nothing to do with him and explained her injuries, he apologized profusely by text and said he was sorry that he brought his “bdsm kink” out.

“I will keep my distance and be respectful tonight and whenever. You’re right about my drinking and the kink. I’m embarrassed and ashamed of myself. Please please please let me know if there is anything I can do. I’m sorry,” he said, according to the text messages the woman shared with the Empire.

She said she has not spoken to Fansler by text, phone or in person since.

The woman told the Empire about her injury during a Jan. 15 Democratic fundraiser at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. She did not reveal what had caused the ruptured eardrum until she texted the Empire on the evening of Jan. 20 and asked to talk. In that span, the woman had contacted the Juneau Police Department and filed an official complaint.

The Empire conducted an interview with the woman on Jan. 21 in her home but withheld publication for one week because the woman asked that the police department be given time to conduct its investigation. On Thursday, through a message relayed by the woman, a Juneau Police Department detective asked for one additional day as he attempted to contact the representative.

Fansler was absent from the Capitol on Friday. His staff, when the Empire visited his office, said he was sick. Several lawmakers in Fansler’s majority coalition also said he was sick.

According to sources within the governor’s office and the leadership of the majority coalition, knowledge of the incident became known to a handful of people Friday, when representatives of the Department of Law contacted them.

Fansler has been considered one of the rising stars of the Democratic Party’s rural wing. He came to Alaska in 2001 as part of a group of Jesuit volunteers. Before being elected to the House in 2016, he was a volunteer and legal advocate for the Tundra Women’s Coalition, a nonprofit devoted to reducing the number of sexual assaults and other violent crimes against women in Bethel. He also managed the Teens Acting Against Violence program, which was praised for its effectiveness. He managed the Kuskokwim 300 sled dog race and in 2016 was encouraged to run against incumbent Democrat Bob Herron for House District 38.

Though a Democrat, Herron was a member of the Republican-led majority in the House of Representatives, and Democrats were interested in building a coalition to take control of the House of Representatives. Fansler defeated Herron in the 2016 Democratic primary as part of a well-funded effort to implement that strategy.

On Jan. 12, the political news website Politico published a lengthy story about the effort.

Fansler was one of the people featured, and author Mark Oppenheimer described him as having the “good-guy air of the frat bro you trust to protect you from other frat bros.”


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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