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County Council candidate Bonner admits to sexually harassing former Republican aide

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Just like many movements for equal rights in America, the path for women to seek recourse from sexual harassment has been through the courts. But grassroots activism in the 1970s opened the space for a nationwide conversation, and the Civil Right

Whatcom County Council candidate Brett Bonner said he was “blackout drunk” when he sexually harassed a woman online last winter while he was vice chairman of Whatcom Republicans.

Bonner, 55, acknowledged contacting the woman and contacting her repeatedly one night via Facebook Messenger — first asking for a date and then ultimately for sex.

In an interview Friday morning with The Bellingham Herald, Bonner said he was drunk when he engaged Daniella Pentsak, 23, in an unsolicited conversation on the night of Feb. 25 and early morning of Feb. 26.

“I was horrified when I saw it in the morning,” Bonner said. “This is so out of character for me.”

He said he told his wife and family about the incident, resigned his position with the local Republican Party and then checked himself into the Betty Ford Center near Palm Springs, Calif., for a three-week rehab stint in March and April.

Bonner said he has been struggling with alcohol abuse for more than a decade but is sober now after treatment with the help of a 12-step group.

Bonner is now one of three people challenging Councilwoman Carol Frazey for the County Council’s at-large position.

Pentsak, a 2018 graduate of Western Washington University, said she can’t recall ever meeting Bonner, but thinks he might have seen her at Republican Party functions while she was a volunteer and also a paid office aide during the 2018 election campaign.

In emails and a phone conversation with The Herald this week, Pentsak described the incident and said she came forward after she learned that Bonner had filed for office May 17.

“It’s very strange,” Pentsak said. “I don’t want a blind eye turned to people like him.”

Pentsak also forwarded screenshots of the conversation, along with dates and timestamps.

She said she reported the incident to Kathy Kershner, who is the Whatcom Republicans’ chairwoman.

In an interview with The Herald, Kershner said that Bonner approached her about the incident before Pentsak came forward — and that Kershner had accepted Bonner’s resignation from the party organization.

“I encouraged Brett to resign,” Kershner said. “We don’t have any room for that in our party, especially in our leadership.”

Kershner is a candidate for the County Council’s 4th District representing Lynden and rural Whatcom County.

Pentsak said she was satisfied with how Kershner handled the incident, and that she came forward only because Bonner had filed for office.

Bonner never directly supervised Pentsak when she was with the party organization, Bonner and Pentsak said.

“As long as he was gone from the vice position (at Whatcom Republicans), I had no problem,” Pentsak said. “When I was notified that he filed last week, I was very confused and shocked.”

Bonner said he remains committed to the County Council primary campaign, adding that admitting his addiction has given him new perspective on issues such as homelessness and mental illness because they are so connected to substance abuse.

He said he has tried repeatedly to apologize to Pentsak — via social media and through intermediaries — but received no response.

He accepted sole responsibility for his actions.

“Pentsak was not in any way responsible or an instigator on what happened,” Bonner said. “I’m truly sorry and I’ve tried so hard to apologize. This is something that I’m going to have to live with for the rest of my life.”

Robert Mittendorf covers civic issues, weather, traffic and how people are coping with the high cost of housing for The Bellingham Herald. A journalist since 1984, he’s also a volunteer firefighter for South Whatcom Fire Authority.
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