Sam Neustadt is running a strong race, and on Sunday he will earn a major endorsement – the Davis Enterprise who cites his experience in public education as follows, “A 20-year Yolo County resident and veteran K-12 educator, he has risen through the ranks of public education, including stints as an elementary teacher, principal and administrator in the state Department of Education.”
Unfortunately, that is not what most people are talking about this week. Instead, we are talking about nine year old incident at Woodland Community College involving Mr. Neustadt’s opponent, Jesse Ortiz. Why are we talking about this incident? Well because there is a whisper campaign going on.
On Monday, I received, through a man named Dino Gay, a copy of a police report investigating the incident. The report, dated April 14, 2005, resulted in no charges, and as a result, the administrative investigation concluded, “sexual misconduct involving Ortiz could not be substantiated during the investigation.”
Dino Gay runs a website called the Woodland Record, and that website appears to be a strong supporter of Sam Neustadt. In subsequent days we have seen an email of Garry Gallgher and the posts on the Vanguard of Dave Salinas. It is not clear that either are real names. While it is not clear that this is originating from the official campaign, we have heard that public figures who are closely tied to the Neustadt campaign have been among those perpetuating this story.
All of this prompted a 9:20 pm on Friday evening press release from the Sam Neustadt campaign where Mr. Neustadt addresses the importance of positive campaigning. The press release reads as follows:
From the Campaign to Elect Sam Neustadt:
“I want to express my gratitude to those who support my campaign for the office of Yolo County Superintendent of Schools. We have generated significant momentum on the merits of my qualifications for this important job, including endorsement by The Davis Enterprise.
It has come to my attention, however, that information regarding my opponent’s past legal matters has been disseminated by people outside of my campaign team, as a basis to vote for me rather than him. While my campaign team and I respect everyone’s right to freely express their opinions, to the extent that this information was circulated with the intent to engage in negative campaigning, we do not condone this. I ask that supporters remain focused on highlighting my experience as a career educator and my plan to improve services for the students of Yolo County.
I would encourage that those of you who are still doing research look at the following articles:
My commitment from day one has been to focus my campaign on the role of the Superintendent of Schools and why I believe my background as a career educator best qualifies me for that job. I want to thank you for supporting constructive conversations that focus on the most important aspect of this campaign – who is most qualified to best serve the students, educators, and families of Yolo County.”
I literally have no dog in this fight. I met with both men early in the campaign, I quickly reached the conclusion that both men are immensely passionate for education and qualified for this position. Yolo County and students in Yolo County will be in good hands no matter which candidate wins.
That was the first time I had met Mr. Neustadt. I know Jesse Ortiz slightly better, as he has been prominent in the Latino Community in Woodland for years,. However, he and I have not always been on the same side of issues.
As far as the incident is concerned, there are a lot of questions I have about both the incident itself and the propriety of the investigation.
First, at its core, even if we accept it on face value, it is an incident that occurred nine years ago. It was a consensual encounter involving two adults.
Second, the administrative findings were that a letter of reprimand was issued “for failing to cooperate fully with the administrative investigation.” The letter of reprimand also notes, “sexual misconduct involving Ortiz could not be substantiated during the investigation.”
A letter of reprimand is literally a slap on the wrist. What know from this is that Mr. Ortiz was not fully cooperative, but we don’t know in what way. He hired a lawyer early in the process, perhaps he lawyered up. That would certainly be his right, and doing so is not evidence of a crime.
We also have questions about the incident itself. The officer observed a car moving at a high rate of speed, which than parked. The officer wrote, “The car’s headlights and engine were then turned off. I waited, observed the car, and did not see any interior lights activate or persons exit the vehicle.”
His pretext for shining the light into the car, was “concern for officer safety,” which seemed like a rather thin pretext given the circumstances. It was only after he shined his light into the car that he observed the sexual act.
Here is where we need to scrutinize this report. He immediately recognized the Hispanic male, he claims, and yet as we now know, he never got his license, his license plate number, or gave him a citation for the 647(a)? Why would that be?
There is no description of this in his report, only a few days later he contacted Mr. Ortiz who denied it was him and the police had no evidence that it was him.
One of the posters argued, “Jesse is the one who in my opinion made this a bigger investigation than it would have been. He tried to deny it was him.”
Why is Jesse Ortiz obligated, even if he is the perpetrator here, to admit guilt to the police. If they did not get his license and license plate number, that is on the police.
One of the critical questions is how did this police report got into the public record. As Phil Coleman, a retired police chief for the city of Davis wrote, police reports are not public documents, “police reports are replete with hearsay and could be used to cause undue harm to a person’s public reputation.”
The police officer here was never put on the stand where his observations could be scrutinized and cross-examined.
Mr. Coleman goes as far as to question whether there is even an underlying crime here, noting that there is no public nuisance if the participants are in a closed car in an otherwise publically assessable location.
Much has also been made of Mr. Ortiz’ alleged efforts at cover up. But as others have observed, all Mr. Ortiz had to do was stay quiet to keep this matter quiet. A letter of reprimand is a private personnel document that is placed into an employee’s personnel folder. It is not public record.
Ironically the only way this case even became public record is that Mr. Ortiz sued the university for violating his rights including the Brown Act, which requires public notification in order for the university to meet in closed session to issue a letter of reprimand.
That Mr. Ortiz lost this case, has no bearing either on the charges against him from April 2005 or the fact that he was were never prosecuted or convicted of any crime. In fact, again, the administrative review found that the core charges of sexual misconduct could not be substantiated.
Given the length of time that has passed, the minor nature of the offense, and the lack of substantiation for the incident, this whole incident is a non-issue. Now the Neustadt campaign has asked their supporters to stick with the issues at hand – issues on whose basis Sam Neustadt is eminently able to compete.
Other than a few partisans, no one else seems moved much by this old and minor case.
—David M. Greenwald reporting