Title IX Defendant Exonerated in Case Where Pitzer Dean of Students Hid Material Evidence

In a University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) Title IX case handled by current Pitzer College Dean of Students Sandra Vasquez, 629 days into his illegal suspension, the former UCSB student charged with relationship violence by the Title IX office of the University has been cleared of all charges in an unanimous decision by a panel of UCSB administrators. The low-income, minority student in question, initially suspended on August 30, 2016, three weeks before the start of his freshman year, had been accused of either harming his former high school girlfriend or threatening her with serious injury. Almost two years later, it was determined that neither had actually taken place.

A previous Independent article highlighted newly-hired Vasquez’s role in concealing material evidence in the case when she was a director of judicial affairs at UCSB despite assuring that she had disclosed to him all of the information upon UCSB would rely in determining whether to lift his suspension. The student’s San Diego-based attorney, Bob Ottilie, previously told the Independent that “[w]hile the specifics of the Department of Education investigation are confidential, I can confirm that Ms. Vasquez’s conduct is a component.” A court ruling also affirmed that Vasquez and her colleagues did not provide the accused student with all information at his initial hearing.  

Nonetheless, Pitzer released a statement lambasting the article’s attempt to “paint Dr. Vasquez as an untrustworthy leader, bent on undermining students’ rights.” The statement further accused the Independent of having “misinterpreted and misrepresented the facts in its August 28, 2017 article.” The statement expressed Pitzer’s “full support” for Vasquez, and expressed disappointment with the Independent’s “reckless and inaccurate reporting without contemplating the potential ramifications to Dr. Vasquez’s professional reputation.”

In light of the student in question being exonerated by UCSB’s administrative panel—the student had previously been only exonerated by the Santa Barbara Superior Court—Pitzer could not provide an updated comment, but stated that it reaffirmed Vasquez’s statement in defense of her actions:

“During my tenure at UC Santa Barbara, I performed my duties as the Director of Judicial Affairs in compliance with federal and state law, and university policy. I also performed my duties with integrity and the utmost respect for fairness and process. The article in the Claremont Independent does not accurately describe the case at UCSB, nor does it accurately describe my involvement. Suffice it to say that I have never concealed material evidence in any case, nor would I do anything that flies in the face of the professional and personal ethics that define me.

I have dedicated my career to advancing the access, retention and success of all students. I have advocated and worked diligently to develop student conduct policies and procedures that ensure fair and equitable processes for all parties involved, and I look forward to continuing this important work at Pitzer College.”

However, according to a press release obtained by the Independent, the UCSB panel found that “had the University considered available evidence at the inception of the case (2016), John Doe’s [the student in question] suspension and charges probably would not have occurred.” (emphasis original)

The accused student was also rewarded his court costs as the prevailing party in the case.

In a March 2017 ruling, Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Thomas P. Anderle concluded that UCSB had predetermined the student’s guilt: “This Court concludes that the University is intentionally doing indirectly what it is unwilling to do directly. The University has made a decision to deny John Doe the opportunity to enroll in the any of the first three quarters of his freshman year. But instead of making that decision based upon the facts, the law, and in fairness, it has decided to do it their own way.”

Most importantly, Anderle criticized Vasquez and other UCSB officials for violating the student’s due process rights when withholding evidence at the time of the student’s initial hearing:

“John Doe is entitled to know all the information against him at the hearing; not via emailing his counsel allegedly critical and decisive information at a later time…the fact is, that it is patently obvious to this Court, Petitioner was seriously prejudiced by the use of [this evidence].”

“The backbone of our legal system requires all evidence to be presented in the Courtroom where it can be tested; it can be questioned…Evidence acquired otherwise is an abrogation of our legal system,” Anderle added.

The alleged actions had taken place on August 13, 2016, in San Diego, California, before the plaintiff was to attend UCSB. His then-girlfriend, who had illegally hacked his social media accounts, began to film the argument that ensued when the plaintiff discovered this. When he found that he was being filmed, the plaintiff tried to take her phone. His girlfriend claimed the plaintiff had hit her; he denied this.

The plaintiff also claimed that his then-girlfriend had repeatedly threatened to make the video recording public if he had any interactions with other women at UCSB. After he returned from a week-long orientation program for incoming UCSB freshmen, the student’s girlfriend accused him of flirting with another woman. Shortly thereafter, she posted a doctored version of the video in which he appeared to be hitting her just as the footage cut out.

After the UCSB Office of Student Affairs was notified by a concerned student, an interim suspension was immediately issued by the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, Margaret Klawunn, who entirely neglected to contact the plaintiff for his side of the story, instead delivering the suspension notice as he was being checked into juvenile hall. Declaring that the student posed a potential threat to the UCSB community, the interim suspension barred him from entering the UCSB and attending classes at the school.

On September 2, 2016, two days after his initial suspension, the Juvenile Division of the San Diego Superior Court determined that the supposed “threat” posed by the plaintiff was, in fact, nonexistent, and released him from custody. Twelve days later, the District Attorney had dismissed two of the three charges against him, and in late October, the last charge against him was dropped after his former girlfriend admitted that he had not hit her.

Immediately following the finding of the juvenile court on September 2, the student had contacted UCSB of the finding that he posed no threat. The response by Vasquez  was to inform him that a hearing had been scheduled on September 15 to determine his eligibility for moving in on September 17.

The student and his attorney arrived at the meeting with a 45-page statement and 75 exhibits in support of his claims of innocence. Told that a decision regarding the lifting of the interim suspension would be reached by the end of the meeting, the student was instead notified several days later that the interim suspension order would remain in effect until the conclusion of an investigation by the UCSB Title IX Office. If charged with an offense, he would, the letter stipulated, be able to present evidence in his own defense. By the end of the second quarter of his freshman year, however, the Title IX investigation remained incomplete.

After the student filed a petition alleging that UCSB had denied him due process, by delaying in their investigation of the incident—effectively issuing an indefinite suspension from the school—and in their consideration of evidence which they had concealed from him.

The Court of Appeal found that “the University’s inaction over such a lengthy period of time…appears unreasonable and arbitrary,” and that “the interim suspension appears particularly egregious given the University’s delay in completion of its Title IX investigation, the dismissal of the juvenile court proceedings against Petitioner, and the seven month interruption in his education.” The Court also contended that the University, by stretching the Title IX investigation as long as it did, failed to perform its duty in a reasonable timeframe, abusing “discretion as a matter of fact and of law.”

Despite his success in court, the student’s problems are far from over. After local media began covering the case, the student involved was identified by other students, who set about isolating him within the community on the presumption of his guilt. Aside from losing new friends and an offer from a fraternity, he was also forced to leave his job and living situation as other students worked at systematically cutting him off.

Finding life in Santa Barbara untenable, the student will be resuming school at an undisclosed institution in hopes of avoiding any further consequences of the tribulations caused by UCSB.

Previously, the Independent reported that the student’s case has been accepted by the Department of Education for investigation on the basis of potential Title IX and Title VI violations. Title IX “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex,” while Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin.”

Aside from Dean of Students, Vasquez is also a Title IX coordinator at Pitzer, tasked with “ensuring prompt and equitable resolution of complaints.”

 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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