School District Accepts Resignation of Harper Teacher Accused of Inappropriate Touching

Superintendent Winfred Roberson held a press conference in November to brief the media and the community on the arrest of John O'Brien
Superintendent Winfred Roberson held a press conference in November to brief the media and the community on the arrest of John O’Brien

John O’Brien, a long-time teacher in the DJUSD school district, most recently at Harper Junior High, has resigned from his position, the school district announced on Monday.  According to a release, on December 19, 2014, the school board took action to accept the resignation and, as a result, “the district will no longer pursue an action for termination before a Commission on Professional Competence.”

John O’Brien, who had been the subject of an internal district investigation, agreed to resign in consideration for a payment of $37,000 to buy-back a portion of his unused sick leave.

Addressing the agreement, School Board President Alan Fernandes stated, “The Board, on a 5-0 vote, agreed to sever the relationship with Mr. O’Brien immediately. The security of our children is paramount. This agreement was designed to secure a resignation at the least possible cost to the district. We were certain that the cost of pursuing this matter through the dismissal process would likely exceed $100,000.”

Superintendent Winfred Roberson stated, “District staff completely supports the unanimous decision of the School Board on this matter. This brings closure to this situation for our district.”

The School Board took action to formally accept John O’Brien’s resignation at its meeting on January 11.

As required by law, “The district shall report John O’Brien’s resignation from employment to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) due to pending allegations of misconduct. Action to suspend or revoke Mr. O’Brien’s teaching credential is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Inquiries regarding further proceedings should be directed to the CTC.”

John O’Brien continues to face criminal charges in the Yolo County court system. DJUSD said Monday that it will continue to cooperate in the criminal proceedings as necessary.

In mid-November, the district announced that Mr. O’Brien had been charged with misdemeanor sexually battery and a warrant had been issued for his arrest.

Tim Taylor, vice president of the school board, said in November, “The District’s own internal investigation led to the Board’s decision to begin the dismissal proceedings with the intention of terminating Mr. O’Brien’s employment. He has been placed on unpaid administrative leave pending the outcome of a dismissal hearing with the California Commission on Professional Competence.”

Superintendent Winfred Roberson held a press conference on November 17, 2014, outside of the district office.

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, whether he would 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 the 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 currently scheduled for a February 10 arraignment at the Yolo Superior Court.

Board President Alan Fernandes declined further comment on Monday evening.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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21 Comments

  1. South of Davis

    The school district says:

    > The security of our children is paramount.

    Yet they drop everything and give the guy thousands of dollars and let him resign (so he can get another job with kids).

    It is sad that the school district cares more about money than the kids when they not only quietly push out bad teachers and stick them in poor schools (as the Vergara lawsuit proved) but do the same thing with actual child predators.

    It sounds like the schools are doing the same think as the Catholic Church for years and thinking “wow look how much money we are saving now, no chance of us getting class action lawsuits down the road” (and paying out more than a BILLION dollars like the church has)…

    1. wdf1

      SoD:  It is sad that the school district cares more about money than the kids when they not only quietly push out bad teachers and stick them in poor schools (as the Vergara lawsuit proved) but do the same thing with actual child predators.

      I see that you entertain “presumed guilt.”  There is an appropriate legal process to follow, first, to determine guilt.  The problem with the priest sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church is that almost no one reported similar issues to the police.

      Even if he is exonerated, I think it will be harder for him to find employment working with children because a google search on his name will reveal this Vanguard report, as well as related reports in the Davis Enterprise.

      1. David Greenwald

        I was told by people close to him that he just didn’t want to fight this. I don’t know that his resignation should imply guilt. We’ll see what happens with the criminal proceedings.

        1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          I don’t know that his resignation should imply guilt.

          Come now, Greenwald. Of course John O’Brien’s resignation implies guilt (in the court of common sense). But implication certainly does not equate with guilt in the court of law.

          It’s entirely possible that, because Mr. O’Brien has been arrested and he now needs to defend himself in court, he did not think he could teach effectively at the same time. So rather than fighting his firing from the school district, he stepped aside in the best interests of himself and his students.

          One thing, similar to this in a way, that jurors are always told before deliberation is that they are not supposed to draw any conclusions or inferences if a defendant chooses to not testify in his own behalf. Every defendant has the constitutional right to remain silent. And this admonition, of course, is very important in a fair legal hearing. Jurors must only deliberate based on the evidence given them in court, not on evidence left out. Yet, in the court of public opinion, a defendant who refuses to testify, who is not willing to answer questions and declare his innocence, implies guilt, or at the very least implies that he has something very serious he is hiding. And anyone who does not understand that nonjudicial implication either lacks common sense or is delusional.

        2. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          Progressive: Obviously my argument is one of semantics (which is the meaning of words). Greenwald does not think that O’Brien’s resignation implies guilt. But resigning, and not denying the accusation against him before his employer, not screaming in all forums, “I am 100% innocent!,” does imply guilt outside of a courtroom. Yet, as I noted, he may be willing to accept that implication in order to focus on his legal case.

        3. Davis Progressive

          part of the problem is that we have the presumption of guilt when the accusation comes down.  so perhaps he believed he was tarnished regardless of the outcome.  he has yet to cop a plea, if he does, then i’ll agree that there is the implication of guilt.

        4. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          he has yet to cop a plea, if he does, then i’ll agree that there is the implication of guilt.

          I think you are confusing two things here. The implication of his leaving his job in the face of this charge is only before the court of public opinion. In a legal sense, there should be no implication or inference. If he “cops a plea,” that obviously speaks to his legal culpability.

          I think there are several things to think about in cases like this: one is that there sometimes can be an honest misunderstanding, where the accused was attempting to comfort (such as giving a warm embrace or a gentle pat), but it was interpreted differently by the youth; another is that some accusers* in cases like this are liars and for some reason they seek attention or they are being manipulated by another adult into claiming inappropriate behavior; and third, it is always possible that there are other victims who never spoke out, but will do so in the wake of this charge, and that implies guilt.

          *I don’t mean to be saying anything about this specific accuser, who I obviously know nothing about.

      2. South of Davis

        wdf1 wrote:

        > I see that you entertain “presumed guilt.”  

        I have no idea if this guy is guilty and I know that a lot of innocent teachers (and priests) have been accused of horrible things.

        I just have a problem with a school (or church) that says they “care about kids” typically (but not always) giving people money to go away so they don’t have to deal with the problem.

        I’ve been on a DFER e-mail list that a friend runs for years and week after week I read about the teachers union focusing on more money and power for the union and ignoring the kids (especially the poor ones who don’t have parents that care).

        Here is an example of the teachers union just does not care about the kids:

        A Los Angeles school teacher has pleaded guilty to a series of heinous abuses against his students, including blindfolding them and feeding them cookies laced with his semen.

        After being removed from the classroom in 2011, Berndt was paid $40,000 by the school district to drop the appeal of his suspension.

        The school district had received reports of Berndt abusing students since the 1990s, but did not act until the the police intervened.

        http://gawker.com/school-teacher-pleads-guilty-to-feeding-students-semen-1466218573

         

        1. Davis Progressive

          “I just have a problem with a school (or church) that says they “care about kids” typically (but not always) giving people money to go away so they don’t have to deal with the problem.”

          no one is giving him money to go away.  the man resigned.

        2. South of Davis

          DP wrote:

          > no one is giving him money to go away.  the man resigned.

          Yet David writes (above) he “agreed to resign in consideration for a payment of $37,000″…

          1. Matt Williams

            If what has been reported by the news media is correct, then he had the referenced $37,000 coming as accrued vacation/sick pay, and there is no net incremental consideration being given beyond what was due to him from his accrual.

        3. wdf1

          SoD: Yet David writes (above) he “agreed to resign in consideration for a payment of $37,000″…

          …which covers accumulated sick leave that he is allowed to carry forward under his contract.  So it is money that he can argue is money he already earned.

        4. wdf1

          It took me until today to read the links you posted.  For me the topic was just too sickening at the time to read, and really, it still is.

          Problem I have is that I don’t see how your links support your premise, “Here is an example of the teachers union just does not care about the kids.”  I didn’t see any mention of teachers unions in y our links.  Please enlighten me otherwise, because so far it’s a grossly false argument your making.

          Note that I see where the school district paid $40,000, but that’s not the teachers union.

           

  2. Robin W.

    So sad. This teacher had a 15 year history with the school district and a number of years’ history before that as a camp counselor with the City of Davis, filled with accolades regarding his work with children and his mentoring, esp of troubled children. Whatever happened here — false accusation by a disturbed youth or a misunderstanding — this is not a predator, but someone whose life has been completely messed up by a report from a single minor whose credibility is questionable.

    1. Davis Progressive

      this concerns me in general – it is guilty until proven innocent once an accusation comes down.  this guy will never get his life back and the enduring lesson is don’t go out of your way to help people.  this is not a good day for our district.

      1. South of Davis

        DP wrote:

        > it is guilty until proven innocent once an accusation

        > comes down.  this guy will never get his life back 

        We need a law where if you accuse someone of something like this and is is found that they lied about it that they do the time for the crime they accused the person of committing (the Rolling Stone UVA rape girl who lied would now be in jail doing a long jail term with all the Mom’s who tell the courts the guy they are divorcing is a child abuser).

        I also think we need some kind of law that punishes organizations (like a school) and the media from spreading the details of an accusation (remember I think there is a good chance that O’Brien is innocent) until the person is actually convicted of the crime they were accused of committing.

        1. South of Davis

          DP wrote:

          > i think it would make it very difficult to get people to recant

          > and so it would make things harder to reverse.

          I think that we would have less false accusations in the first place if people knew they would be serving hard time if convicted of lying.

          Today you can have video evidence and 20 witness including a priest and rabbi come forward to say that the woman told them she lied about abuse to get custody in a divorce and all we say is “the poor woman must have really wanted custody”…

          If things end in a “he said she said tie” we should keep both names quiet (so 20+ years later people don’t think “rapist” when they hear the name William Kennedy Smith)…

    2. Miwok

      — this is not a predator, but someone whose life has been completely messed up by a report from a single minor whose credibility is questionable.

      Robin, I agree. I used to go shopping after the McMartin Preschool hearings and trial and women were hugging their kids close in those days, I could not even smile at them.

      That encouraged me, even though working around kids, to always keep a distance and never offer anything but a handshake to any kid, preferably in the presence of their parents. Always have other witnesses. I will never volunteer for any program except in an administrative role, because the risk is too great from false accusations.

  3. Rich RifkinWDE 73

    this concerns me in general – it is guilty until proven innocent once an accusation comes down.

    I agree with you.

    It is interesting to me that prosecutors and newspapers keep the name of an accuser in an alleged sex crime secret, even when the accuser is not a minor (as in this case). But the person who is accused has his name, and thus his reputation, smeared all over the press, even if it turns out he was innocent.

    My view is that there is very good reason to protect the identities of alleged victims in crimes of this nature. I am all for the conspiracy to keep their names out of the news. But at the same time, I would favor (in most cases*) giving someone who has been accused of one of these crimes the option of keeping his identity secret until a court trial is over and he has been found guilty. That way, if it turns out the allegation is untrue, he can likely go on living his life without an unwarranted stain on his reputation.

    *There are some exceptions: If the accused has previously been convicted of a violent crime or any sex crime, I think he should lose the right to protect his identity if he is subsequently accused of a sex crime; also, if someone is accused of a sex crime, and the court finds that the charges are so serious or he is so dangerous that he will be held without bail, it makes sense to make his name public. (This also serves to protect the accused, as the public will know cases where someone is being held in jail and awaiting trial.)

    I also think that if someone who is accused works or lives in an environment where his ongoing presence may be a threat, his employer and/or cohabitants must be made aware of the charges, even if the accused wants the charges kept secret. In a case like that of Mr. O’Brien, the school district has to be (in my view) informed of the charges and, because he is accused of harming a minor, O’Brien would have to be removed from the classroom until his trial. But if the proceedings were otherwise kept secret and O’Brien were found not guilty, he would have the option of returning to his job and life as before.

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