Superintendent Roberson Holds Press Conference Regarding O’Brien Situation

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Superintendent Winfred Roberson takes questions from the media in the courtyard outside of the District Office on Monday morning

On Monday morning, Superintendent Winfred Roberson held a rare school district press conference, mainly to make sure the media had all of the information and to request that the media not seek out staff and students on the Harper Junior High Campus.

While the superintendent clarified some information, mostly the information was a rehash of what had already been released.

Superintendent Roberson noted that “this has been a difficult time for the Davis Joint Unified School District” but emphasized “that Davis schools along with our employees have built a tradition of academic excellence and choice programs. We are not defined by this single incident. In classrooms right now hundreds of dedicated and nurturing teachers are working on behalf of students.

“I have received confirmation from the Davis Police Department that Mr. John O’Brien, a teacher at Harper Junior High, was arrested Friday,” he said. “I want to underscore that to the best of our knowledge, the alleged events that led to the arrest did not occur on a school campus and the criminal case remains strictly a police matter. I cannot and will not comment on those details.

“In reference to our internal school district investigation, the Board of Education has begun dismissal proceedings with the intent of terminating Mr. O’Brien’s employment,” Mr. Roberson continued. “The details of any internal personnel investigation are confidential to protect privacy of those involved. They generally involve a careful examination of all aspects of professional conduct. I am confident that we responded appropriately based on the information from our own investigation.”

He stated, “As a result of the Board of Education’s decision, the employee is now on unpaid administrative leave, pending dismissal proceedings with the California Commission on Professional Competence.

“While student safety is always our number one priority, it is unfortunate that this incident is what captures the most public attention,” he added. “However, it is equally important for our community to understand the good work happening every day in Davis schools. This year we are hard at work implementing our district’s strategic plan and Local Control Accountability Plan. I am proud of what we do each day for our students, and I commend the professional and talented DJUSD employees who make it all possible.”

Superintendent Roberson said they became aware of the issue on September 17, 2014. “At that time we proceeded with due process, and conducted an internal investigation,” he said, noting that they take these matters very seriously. At that time, the employee was “placed on paid administrative leave,” he said, and noted “we want to make sure that we keep our students safe.

“Employee personnel matters remain confidential,” he said. “Our internal investigations always remain private in order to protect all of those involved. In this situation, we were made aware of an arrest and that information became public and we wanted to make sure that we were communicating to community members.”

Superintendent Roberson was asked if O’Brien were found innocent, would he get his job back. He responded, “I can’t speak to that, that’s the California Commission on teaching competence. That’s a whole separate process. That’s part of the due process and a determination will be made at that time.

“We believe that we responded appropriately based upon the information that we found in our internal investigation,” he stated. He said that the District did not necessarily move quickly but, rather, “we moved appropriately within the timelines of when we were made aware of the allegations. We moved right away to conduct an internal investigation and at that time Mr. O’Brien was placed on paid administrative leave which is customary for his protection, as well as others, to give us time to conduct due process.”

Mr. O’Brien has been an employee of the district for approximately 15 years.

The superintendent said that what is taking place in the criminal investigation is separate from what the district is doing. They conducted a separate internal investigation and their process is not parallel to the criminal investigation.

Meanwhile, the Vanguard has learned more details about the relationship between John O’Brien, 40, and his 16-year-old alleged victim. The police indicated that Mr. O’Brien is suspected of inappropriately touching the boy over his clothing. He had befriended the victim and served as his mentor.

One source told the Vanguard that there was a complaint about a year ago, but nothing come of the incident and the young man and his friend denied that anything inappropriate had occurred.

The alleged victim here was a troubled young man who had developed a drug problem and had been sent away for rehab. A source told the Vanguard that it may have been the efforts of the teacher to get the alleged victim help that instigated the complaint.

Mr. O’Brien is charged with inappropriate touching of a minor. He was arrested and released with a notice to appear for arraignment. He is scheduled to be arraigned on February 10, 2015, at 8:30 am in Department 9.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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22 thoughts on “Superintendent Roberson Holds Press Conference Regarding O’Brien Situation”

  1. TrueBlueDevil

    David, thank you for more good reporting. These chain of events now bother me on several levels.

    “The alleged victim here was a troubled young man who had developed a drug problem and had been sent away for rehab.”

    1. “troubled”

    2. “young”

    3. “drug problem”

    4. “sent away”

    The first three are tough enough, but #4 adds another twist to the story. Being that the child is under 18, they should only be released if a) they successfully completed the program, or b) the parent(s) caved in to the child’s demands, and was released from the treatment program.

    These situations often include complex, multi-layered problems and issues. A friend of mine, their family counselor, school counselor, and others lobbied hard to get his child into rehab over the objections of the Mother, who was a major “enabler”. Just 2 weeks into the forced 3 AM rehab where men come in the middle of the night to transport the child out of state to a treatment facility, the child convinced the Mother to release him. Everything went back to “normal”, and they had to repeat the whole scenario and drama a few months later when nothing had changed.

    5. “A source told the Vanguard that it may have been the efforts of the teacher to get the alleged victim help that instigated the complaint.”

    Do we now have a motive? If the teenager was looking at being sent away again, withdrawal from drugs, withdrawal from “social media” (social media detox), that’s a lot of motive.

    6. Given the apparent slipshod investigation of the Nancy Peterson / volleyball coach situation where the coach had multiple witnesses who were never even contacted, and the city was given a large bill ($20,000?), it raises questions about competency, thoroughness, and transparency.

    I don’t know the teacher in question, but I’ve read about a teacher in Concord, CA, who had over 120 criminal allegations tossed out. I hope that parents who know this teacher step forward and tell us about his character and history.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        I read it as written. Not sure if David or other sources will be able to tell us if he successfully completed treatment, how long the treatment was, and what kinds of drugs are involved.

        I wonder if there are any acts of “acting out” or violent behavior on the child’s part. We did just have a very public Daniel Marsh drama.

        This is a huge power move on the child’s part, whether true or fabricated. This allegation of a misdemeanor crime is troubling.

    1. Davis Progressive

      i agree with your analysis.  the only thing that gives me pause is that the police performed a two month investigation between allegation and arrest, so hopefully they found something more than he said, she said.  it would seem pretty easy for a kid in a moment of anger to claim the teacher grabbed his crotch.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        The teenager should be protected, and the truth sought, but these allegations appear to come from a very troubled teenager.

        I personally know of a very successful, very solid Father who had a mildly troubled son. His son didn’t want to do schoolwork or go to class, parents were divorced, the son is smart and sees a nice house and 3 cars, so he chooses to live with Dad. His teenage son wanted to stay home, get loaded, and surf the Internet. His Father repeatedly went to school, met with counselors, met with advisors, met with family members, spoke to his son.

        DDay finally came when they were meeting with a high school counselor, his son lifted up his shirt sleeve to reveal a minor bruise on his arm. “My Father did this.” I often wondered why my friend was “hands off” with his son, and when he told me that story, I knew why. Both my friend and his son were very masculine, and horseplay wasn’t uncommon. His son got what he wanted, dropped out of high school, got high, surfed the net, drank (I saw a 1.5L bottle of vodka under his PC), made himself at home with his Father’s possessions, and took until he was 20 to get his GED. He is finally starting to mature as he approaches 30, and has apologized to his Father for his earlier actions, but he still plays the victim when he wants to tap his Father’s wallet (along with the ex). To this day I have never seen this man raise his voice, say an unkind word, or commit an unkind act.

        Children should be treated with respect, but I’ve seen many cases where they act like baboons (with an iPhone) while adults walk around on egg shells.

        This teacher may no longer have a profession, and I hope he has a very good lawyer.

        1. Davis Progressive

          i agree.  the troubling thing for me is by many accounts, the teacher is having his job threatened and he had been trying to help a troubled teen.  what message will that send for future teachers in the same position?

  2. MrsW

    I would like to commend Superintendent Roberson for deflecting the media from Harper.  He is exhibited the leadership we have needed in DJUSD’s administration for a long long time.

    I hope that at the end of the day, the adults who staff public schools still consider the role of “trusted adult,” as defined by Ann Landers, part of their job.  And the law enables them to perform this aspect of their job.  It is immeasurably sad when the adults in children’s lives, including teenagers’ lives, abandon positive nurturing behaviors because they fear being sued or loosing their jobs.

  3. South of Davis

    TBD wrote:

    > Given the apparent slipshod investigation of the Nancy Peterson / volleyball

    > coach situation where the coach had multiple witnesses who were never even contacted,

    > and the city was given a large bill ($20,000?)

    Since David was able to find out what the Peterson “investigation” cost I would be interested to see what the district spends to “investigate” something much more serious than cutting a girl from a volleyball team (and possibly reducing the chance that she gets in to Princeton like her Mom)…

    P.S. Does anyone know if this song was playing in the background when the 16 year old called to report the teacher?

    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1p7li_rehab-amy-winehouse_music

  4. DanH

    This is the journalistic equivalent of rumor as it lacks a verifiable source. Rumors may be true or false.

    “One source told the Vanguard that there was a complaint about a year ago, but nothing come [sic] of the incident and the young man and his friend denied that anything inappropriate had occurred.

    The alleged victim here was a troubled young man who had developed a drug problem and had been sent away for rehab. A source told the Vanguard that it may have been the efforts of the teacher to get the alleged victim help that instigated the complaint.”

    Justice is the responsibility of the court in due time. Don’t expect justice from public opinion, the Board of Education or the press.

    1. Barack Palin

      Agree, it seems to me there’s a mild slant of many of the comments that the child made a false accusation.  Can we at least wait until we know all the facts.

      1. DanH

        If I cannot verify a source the information is not valuable to me. Why hide the source? This isn’t a leak of the Pentagon Papers. I don’t believe that operatives are going to seek out and harm the source of this information. If the information was leaked by a school district employee or a care provider then I could understand the need for the source to remain anonymous. There are serious repercussions for leaking student or patient information.

        1. South of Davis

          Dan wrote:

          > If I cannot verify a source the information is

          > not valuable to me. 

          Great, feel free to ignore everything you read from a source you can’t “verify”…

        2. DanH

          If sources could not speak under the condition of confidentiality there would not be much news to read. I rank the veracity of news reports on the credibility of the sources and the accuracy of reporters or editors using confidential sources. I’m willing to watch this story develop and to remember what I have read as it all shakes out.

  5. TrueBlueDevil

    We’re on shaky ground, I don’t see why they couldn’t suspend him until there are formal charges proven. It appears that right now it is “he said, she said”, unless the teacher has confessed.

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