Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Sexual Assault on the Santa Monica College Campus

Here's a bit of history from uncovered legal findings that Santa Monica College would rather keep swept under the rug. On or about October 24, 1984, the California Court of Appeal released a published opinion [161 Cal. App.3d 734 (1984)] , denying Donald V. Cockburn's petition for a hearing with the Supreme Court. Cockburn had filed a lawsuit against the Santa Monica Community College Personnel Commission in Los Angeles Superior Court (No. WEC 078684). Cockburn had been terminated from his employment as an instructor at Santa Monica College. Why was Cockburn terminated from SMC?

According to court records, Donald Cockburn (the Petitioner) was employed by Santa Monica College as a "laboratory technician and instructor in the physical sciences department for approximately 17 years. His job included hiring and supervising student laboratory assistants." The Court records contend that Cockburn engaged in unwanted sexual advances to one of his SMC female student employees that constituted sexual assault. The Court states:

Duria Suncar, an 18 year old Oriental student at the college, asked respondent about employment as a lab assistant. On February 6, 1981, she was interviewed by respondent. A complaint filed with College on February 20, 1981, by Duria alleges the following occurred on February 6: "Complainant, Duria Suncar, was sent to be interviewed for work in the chemistry lab by Dell Wade in Financial Aids. [Respondent] met her and put her to work immediately washing beakers. He then asked her to come with him to the basement to do some work. In the basement he held her hand, asking how her hands felt washing all those dishes. He then grabbed her, holding her tightly. He kissed her on the cheek then on the mouth, saying afterwards, 'o.k., go to work.' Five or ten minutes later he tried to embrace her again. Complainant said 'no, I don't want to.' In about five minutes she told him she was leaving. She did not return. Two weeks later she returned to Financial Aids and asked for another job. She said she had not come back sooner because she was confused, and then told Ms [sic] Wade what had happened in the Chemistry lab."

On or about February 20, 1981, Suncar filed a sexual harassment complaint against Cockburn. Donald Cockburn admitted to the sexual assault against Suncar. The Court found:

The sexual assault outlined above was admitted by respondent and is fortified by abundant uncontradicted evidence.

On or about February 24, 1981, Cockburn was summoned to a meeting with SMC Dean of Human Resources
Dot Gelvin (1947-2004) and Richard Masada, chairman of the College's physical science department (retired June 2006), to discuss the complaint filed against him by Suncar. At this meeting, the Court wrote:

Respondent was advised that "this type of alleged conduct" was unprofessional, the authority in supervisory relationship was not to be abused, and told that his future job performance would be monitored.

A second meeting with the same three parties transpired less than two weeks later, on or about March 5, 1981. This meeting was memorialized in a March 6th document entitled "Permanent Employee -- Unsatisfactory Job Performance -- Second Notice." In the notice, Cockburn allegedly failed to comply with SMC's Merit System Rules, which clearly state: "All fellow employees must receive courteous treatment." The Appellate Court further went on to state:

"The additional improvement required [of respondent]: Student employees must be treated with respect. It is expected that all students employed in the physical science department will receive the same treatment. No behavior with sexual overtones will be permitted in the laboratory or basement stockroom areas." The notice went on to state: "Mr. Masada and Mrs. Gelvin will be available to discuss with respondent any situations that arise at any time. If there are difficulties which we cannot resolve or consider beyond our abilities, we shall assist [respondent] in finding appropriate counseling to deal with this problem.

Cockburn was warned that he must make immediate improvements in job performance or be subject to dismissal from the college. The second meeting, for failure to comply, led to the March 5, 1981 meeting. A third meeting was held on April 2, 1981. This time, Cockburn went up against not only Dean Gelvin and Chairman Masada, but SMC President Dr. Richard Moore, Dean Benita Haley, administrative dean of personnel services and SMC Sociology Professor Elizabeth Vance. During the meeting, Vance indicated that "similar complaints" had been lodged against Cockburn. So, why wasn't Cockburn removed from the campus immediately while an investigation was underway to protect its female students, especially since Cockburn had readily admitted to the sexual misconduct?

Dot GelvinBenita HaleyLynne BoylanRichard Masada
From left to right: Dot Gelvin, Benita Haley, Lynne Boylan, and Richard Masada.

Dr. Moore came on board as SMC's president in 1974 and was a staunch advocate of minority recruitment at the college. Since SMC student and complainant Duria Suncar was a minority student, she had the cards stacked in her favor. Dr. Moore eventually passed his presidential gavel in 1995 to
Piedad Robertson. Benita Haley is now on Schwarzenegger's Board of Governors (BOG) with SMC Board of Trustee Margaret Quinones. Haley had a strong hand in establishing SMC's Academy of Entertainment and Technology (AET) vocational center.

The next day, on April 3, 1981, Dean Haley and Dr. Moore again met with Cockburn. Three days later, Cockburn received a letter from SMCCD, which stated in relevant part:

"I requested a meeting with you on April 3, 1981, as a result of a thorough review of your 'Unsatisfactory Job Performance -- Second Notice' signed on March 6, 1971. Dr. Richard Moore, superintendent and president attended our meeting.

"The purpose of the meeting was to discuss with you the topic of the unsatisfactory notice which was a complaint filed on February 20, 1981, by Duria Suncar, a student helper, describing sexual harassment.

"You were reminded that you have been made aware of 'over-familiarity with female student helpers' in a 'Notice of Need for Work Improvement' on October 20, 1977, and that this continued willful failure of good conduct tending to injure public service was a sufficient single cause for recommending your dismissal to the Board of Trustees. (Merit System Rule 5.1300.3-A) During the discussion that Dr. Moore and I had with you, you admitted that the complaint was an accurate account of what had occurred between Duria Suncar and yourself on Feb. 6, 1981 regretted the incident had ever occurred, stated no such actions with students had ever been taken by you before, and said nothing like that would occur again."

It is our decision that a recommendation will be made for your dismissal. However, Dr. Moore advised you that the recommendation to dismiss would be delayed for a two month period. During the next two months you are to have eight one-hour meetings with the college psychologist,
Dr. Lynne Boylan. The week of June 8 you are to make an appointment with Dr. Moore and me at which time a decision will be made regarding a recommendation for dismissal."

However, this was a potato too hot for Dr. Boylan to handle. So, less than a week later, on or about April 8, 1981, Boylan wrote Dean Haley, suggesting that Cockburn receive outside psychological counseling. Boylan recommended psychologist Dr. Marshall Levy. Before coming to SMC, Boylan had been employed at three mental institutions as well as the California State Prison for women. Boylan has taught most of the psychology courses at SMC. The alleged purpose of the regularly scheduled psychological consultations with Levy was to "rehabilitate" Cockburn of his sexual harassment.

On or about April 29, 1981, Dr. Levy insisted that he would only work with Cockburn if Santa Monica Community College District would "communicate his current situation to his wife." Cockburn immediately lashed back, refusing to submit to therapy under that condition. Instead, on May 4, 1981, Cockburn submitted a request for retirement to the SMC Board of Trustees. So, would he be receiving retirement benefits from the college as a reward for such blatant disrespect for women and the college's own policies?

Why was Cockburn not immediately terminated at that point? Furthermore, if Cockburn was married, why was he sexual assaulting young women who attended SMC? What benefit would notifying Cockburn's wife play in his alleged "rehabilitation"? Would this cause even more martial strife between the couple that Cockburn would perhaps vent out in frustration against more vulnerable SMC female students?

Incidently, who was paying for Cockburn's sexual misconduct? If Levy was paid by the District, that means the taxpayers and students (via their tuition dollars) were paying for SMC to continue to keep onboard a very allegedly disturbed sexual predator who had the potential to become quite dangerous. Additionally, if SMC had such "abundant uncontradicted evidence," numerous lodged complaints, and Cockburn's own admissions that the complaints against him were accurate, why wasn't Cockburn prosecuted in the criminal courts for repeated sexual assault? Why wasn't the SMC student body put on notice that working with Cockburn might not be advisable? It appears that the College was covering up its own wrongdoing by allowing Cockburn to continue on, despite written warnings, in his sexual predator role while failing to protect the students according to federal sexual harassment policies that SMC was under a duty to uphold.

One would think that SMC would be happy to rid themselves of Cockburn and his ever-mounting potential sexual harassment lawsuits against the college. Rather, Benita Haley quickly turned around two days after Cockburn's notice to retire and contacted Dr. Levy on or about May 6, 1981, informing Levy that the college wished to retain Levy for twelve therapy sessions with Cockburn. Suddenly, Cockburn had a change of heart and agreed to include his wife in the therapy sessions. It was extremely naive of SMC to think they could cure this kind of deep psychological problem in only twelve one-hour therapy sessions. Rather, was SMC planning all along to fire Cockburn, but wished to gain a bit more dirt on his long history of unwarranted sexual advances to gear up a defense in case of litigation by any of Cockburn's victims? The latter seems a more likely scenario.

Cockburn wrote a letter to Dr. Moore, president of the College, now suggesting that he was "qualified to continue working in my job." Cockburn swore: "I would never again commit such an act." The Board of Trustees found Cockburn's born-again attitude unconvincing and dismissed him from SMC's employment on or about August 4, 1981 due to his misconduct. Very shortly before his impending termination, Cockburn had rushed off and hired outside legal counsel, James L. Grubbs (now deceased according to California State Bar records).

The California Appellate Court wrote the following regarding the decision of the SMCCD Personnel Commission:

On December 11, 1981, the Commission found as follows: "1. That on August 4, 1981, at a regular meeting, The Board of Trustees of the Santa Monica Community College District took action to dismiss the [respondent] for cause as stated in Personnel Commission Rule 5.1300.3-A 'willful failure of good conduct tending to injure the public service,' alleging that [respondent's] conduct toward Ms. Duria Suncar on February 6, 1981, was discourteous and inappropriate.

The Commission also made other relevant findings as follows:

That the [respondent] has stated by declaration that on February 6, 1981, he approached Ms. Duria Suncar, a student worker in his charge, and grabbed and held her tightly and kissed her on the cheek and attempted physical contact a second time which she objected to and rejected.

That in his position as Laboratory Technician, Physical Science, [respondent] was responsible for the supervision of several student assistants, placing him in a position of responsibility and trust.

That [respondent] breached his trust and responsibility for the supervision of students.

That [respondent's] conduct toward Ms. Suncar on "February 6, 1981, constitutes failure of good conduct and is sufficient cause for dismissal."

However, the Commission also asked that certain files in Cockburn's disciplinary file conveniently "be purged and destroyed." Obviously, SMCCD did not want a paper trail. Apparently, SMC had concealed four incriminating documents against Cockburn, three of which dated as far back as 1978. In a letter dated June 29, 1978, Professor Vance wrote to Dick Wohlgemuth, then Chairman of the physical sciences department the following:

We have, to date, received four complaints against [respondent] . . . The complainants have all stated that [respondent] has made lewd remarks about and to women and has on occasion put his hands on them in a suggestive manner.

Why did SMC wait almost three entire years to investigate and take any action against Cockburn? Had SMC acted more swiftly, SMC student Duria Suncar wouldn't have been victimized by Cockburn's unwanted sexual harassment. But SMC wanted to keep all this potential negative publicity very hush-hush as is evident in Dr. Levy's complete evaluation report, dated July 27, 1981, in which he wrote in relevant part the following:

Though a great deal of information was obtained in the course of the evaluation, I am limiting this report to those issues relating to and thus seen as pertinent to his continued employment. I urge this material be treated with the maximum of discretion and confidentiality.

What was this "great deal of information obtained"? Were there many other unreported victims of sexual abuse at the unclean hands of Cockburn? Did Cockburn have some sort of adverse psychological history that he failed to disclose to the college? It was in fact disclosed by Cockburn in his therapy session with Dr. Levy that he had suffered some sort of brain trauma from a plane crash when he was a Marine Pilot in World War II. If Cockburn had been a pilot in WWII, let's suppose he was at the youngest possible age, 20 years old. WWII ended in 1945. That would place Cockburn's age around 56 or older in 1981. SMC student and victim, Duria Suncar, was then 18 years old. Cockburn was at least 38 years older than Suncar and evidently had not been rehabilitated in all these years from whatever difficulties, psychological or otherwise, he allegedly suffered.

Why was this matter of vital public interest to be "treated with the maximum of discretion and confidentiality"? Despite the fact that SMC had maintained "a prior need for improvement notice, dated October 20, 1977" in Cockburn's personnel file (almost four years before the Suncar incident) and Cockburn's own admission to his therapist of his "'deplorable behavior," Dr. Levy found in pertinent part:

It is my opinion that this patient can be rehabilitated without presenting a danger to himself or others. Specifically, the possibility of a recurrence of the above behavior appears to be very minimal given ongoing therapy and monitoring.

Suprisingly, it only took Dr. Levy a mere nine hours with Cockburn to make this bold medical prognosis. How much "therapy" would be required to "rehabitate" SMC employee Richard V. Cockburn of his self-described "deplorable behavior"? How much would this "therapy" cost SMC and ultimately the taxpayers and students? How would Cockburn's actions, if they were known to the public and the SMC student body, negatively impact Dr. Moore's efforts to draw in minority students? Dr. Levy is concerned about having Cockburn get in touch with his "feelings." What about the negative feelings and stigma that the innocent and trusting victims of sexual assault went through, perhaps some scarred for life by their unjustified experience with Cockburn? Where was the help for them? Who was there to champion their rights?

Even more disturbing, Dr. Levy was only "willing to monitor the patient's progress as well as report to the school psychologist on an as-needed basis" if he first obtained "permission of the patient and his wife." So, theoretically, if Cockburn and his wife (who had absolutely no investment in SMC's community) denied "permission," Cockburn would be left unmonitored to continue on his merry way with his sexual escapades. The Appellate Court found that this should not be the case and commented on Dr. Levy's letter as follows:

When the letter is analyzed in the light of the admitted facts and those inherent in the judgment appealed from the inevitable conclusion which must be drawn is that College cannot without great moral and financial risk to College and the general public reinstate respondent even temporarily. In our opinion too, College has no pragmatic option to employ respondent in any capacity even if and when respondent is reported to be completely rehabilitated. [emphasis in original].

Not only did the Appellate Court feel that Cockburn's employment ties should be immediately severed with Santa Monica College, but that there was strong evidence that "almost demonstrates an impeachment of the opinion of Dr. Levy." Again, if Dr. Levy's medical opinion was so unsound to warrant possible "impeachment," then why would Benita Haley wish to keep Dr. Levy employed for his services? Dr. Levy's report allegedly stated that Cockburn's martial relations "has been subjected to serious strain in the past." However, according to the Appellate Court, the good doctor was "optimistic that the marital situation too can be with psychological help satisfactorily adjusted." Was the SMC community now supposed to pay out of their pocket for Cockburn's martial woes? This is simply absurd, especially given the fact that the Court noted that Dr. Levy "is not an M.D."

The Court noted the questionable findings of Dr. Levy in that the doctor did not give a specified date or time that Cockburn would be allegedly "rehabilitated." The Court further cautioned about the "obvious legal and financial burdens which may ensue" if SMC were to reinstate Cockburn. In declining Cockburn's request for a hearing with the Supreme Court, the Appellate Court opined as follows:

The Commission and the courts have a grave responsibility not alone to respondent but also to the appellants and their personnel, the professors, instructors and students they embrace, and to the general public.

I tend to concur. Fast forward to 2006, twenty-five years after the Cockburn-Suncar incident and how does SMC score for upholding their sexual harassment policies? We have yet to know as SMC continues to willfully withhold vital public records. On or about August 1, 2006, I served a public records request (Set Six) to SMC President Chui L. Tsang and SMCCD requesting in relevant part the following:

Any and all administrative regulations, board policies, or other documents pertaining to Santa Monica College’s harassment policies, anti-harassment policies, and sexual harassment policies.

To date, SMC has simply ignored my request for inspection and copies, resulting in a writ of mandate to enforce compliance. Of course SMC has not only stonewalled production of these public records, it has found more legal maneuvers to circumvent court intervention. SMC is required by law to maintain these sexual harassment policies, so it is quite alarming that SMC would not readily produce these documents. Given this bit of SMC history with Cockburn, one can only wonder what other sexual misconduct has transpired on the SMC campus and what sexual predators are potentially being protected by the college.

-- Des Manttari,
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2006: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

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