Sexual misconduct case at Fresno State: What to know about the claims, CSU’s independent investigation
Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, March 3. I’m Justin Ray.
Late last year I told you about a sexual misconduct scandal at a prestigious private school in the Bay Area. Now, another prominent educational institution faces a similar crisis.
California State University officials have announced that they are launching an independent investigation into how Fresno State University administrators handled sexual harassment complaints against former Vice President of Student Affairs Frank Lamas. Joseph I. Castro, who formerly served as president of Fresno State before being named CSU chancellor in September 2020, announced his resignation last month.
Here’s a quick rundown on the controversy:
Shocking report rocks university
An extensive USA Today report detailed allegations of bullying and sexual misconduct against Lamas over a six-year period starting in 2014, when Castro oversaw the university. A timeline of allegations and related documents have been shared with The Times by the chancellor’s office.
Although complaints about Lamas began in 2014 (the year he was hired), the university launched an investigation into his behavior only after a female employee filed a formal Title IX complaint in October 2019, alleging that he had created a sexually hostile and abusive work environment.
In the 2019 complaint, the employee alleged that Lamas touched her knee and moved his hand up her thigh in a car while talking to her about job prospects, following at least two years of other unwelcome contact. A university investigation found the allegations to be credible, including reports that he touched her lower back near her buttocks and put his arm around her even after she asked him not to touch her.
It was also revealed that Castro quietly authorized a $260,000 payout and a retirement package with a glowing letter of recommendation for Lamas after the investigation found “credible evidence” of the misconduct, according to public documents and university officials.
In the letter, Castro lauded Lamas, saying that, “The student experience at Fresno State will be forever improved because of Dr. Lamas’ bold leadership.” In an interview with The Times, Castro said he regretted writing the letter.
Castro also has said that he agreed to the settlement with Lamas after consulting with Cal State attorneys and then-Chancellor Timothy P. White. Three weeks later, trustees announced Castro as the new chancellor.
What happens now
The state university system has hired Cozen O’Connor, an international law firm, to handle a review of policies and practices at all 23 of the CSU campuses, beginning with Fresno State, The Fresno Bee reported.
“It is important that we understand how campus leaders at Fresno State responded to the workplace concerns about Dr. Frank Lamas,” CSU Board of Trustees Chair Lillian Kimbell said in a statement. “We will investigate the past to reveal potential new facts, learn and take appropriate action.”
The new statement was very different from her prior stance that Castro “acted in accordance with CSU policy in this case and used the management tools available to him to address the situation.”
Castro said he did not tell trustees about the investigation and settlement during the chancellor search, believing that White would have relayed the information if he had deemed it necessary.
Two former trustees told The Times that the board should have been notified of the settlement. “I cannot say specifically as to whether or not [the investigation] will look into communication [and] notification with the board,” Cal State spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp said. “These are details that still need to be determined.”
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
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Warning signs, fears of violence before father killed his 3 kids at Sacramento-area church. Authorities say David Mora opened fire inside a Sacramento-area church on Monday, killing his three daughters and another man before taking his own life. Court records chronicle allegations of domestic abuse and warnings from the children’s mother that Mora — also identified as David Fidel Mora Rojas — was violent. He also had an altercation with law enforcement before the shooting. Los Angeles Times
New L.A. mayoral poll shows Bass and De León in close proximity. A new poll reveals a different shape to the Los Angeles mayoral race than previous polling, with no commanding front-runner. U.S. Rep. Karen Bass still has a small lead in the Loyola Marymount University Center for the Study of Los Angeles poll released Wednesday, but City Councilman Kevin de León is a close second. “The race is wide open in my mind,” said Fernando Guerra, director of LMU’s Center for the Study of Los Angeles. Los Angeles Times
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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
Public health departments fail to receive attention. Last May, the state found itself with tens of billions of dollars in extra revenue. Gov. Gavin Newsom used it to expand Medi-Cal, convert hotel rooms to permanent housing for unhoused people and increase mental health services. “But when it came to the state’s 61 local public health departments, the governor had nothing,” writes Mark Kreidler. “For the third straight year, Newsom failed to propose any increase in funding, only $3 million to continue studying the issue and see how much the agencies might need.” Kreidler argues that that is a problem because these agencies have real reach across the state. Capital and Main
Orange County attorney John Eastman is at the center of an ethics investigation into whether he violated laws while advising President Trump on how he could overturn his election defeat in 2020, the State Bar of California said Tuesday. Eastman was not immediately available for comment. Attorney Randall Miller, who is representing Eastman in the state bar probe, said his client expects the investigation will exonerate him. Los Angeles Times
CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING
A 24-year-old father of three was killed in a road rage shooting. Marco Lara Jr. was killed in Victorville while his wife, their 4-year-old daughter and year-old son were riding with him. “Last night, when she was crying, all I could do was hug her and tell her that he’s taking care of her from heaven,” his wife Katelyn said of the couple’s daughter.” Police are still looking for the person responsible for the shooting. NBC Los Angeles
A Santa Barbara father suspected of killing his two children in Mexico “gave a mind-boggling interview to the feds after his arrest,” telling them he was Neo from “The Matrix.” In an interview with FBI agents last summer, Matthew Taylor Coleman, 40, “discussed time travel, teleportation, [his kids] telling him about babies being placed in fireworks, food and walls,” an FBI search warrants show. Matthew Taylor Coleman, 40, is charged with two counts of foreign murder of a United States national in the slaying of his 2-year-old son and 10-month-old daughter. The Daily Beast
Two brothers, 3 and 4, died three months before their adoptive parents reported them missing in late 2020, the Kern County district attorney announced Wednesday. The bodies of Orrin and Orson West have not been found. The boys’ adoptive parents, Trezell West and Jacqueline West, were each charged with five counts: two counts of murder, two counts of felony child abuse and one count of filing a false report of an emergency. ABC 7
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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Two cities in the Bay Area broke their records for the driest first two months of the year. San Francisco and San Jose saw little to no rain in January and February, said Matt Mehle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Winter dry spells are not uncommon, said Mehle, “but to see that it’s been this year and we’ve had so many dry stretches during the last 10 years is somewhat noteworthy.” San Francisco Chronicle
Meet California State University Sacramento’s LGBTQ+ student organization. The Pride Society, which just started in the fall of 2021, “helps LGBTQ+ students connect with other LGBTQ+ students, and allies by being each others’ support systems,” writes Hannah Asuncion. Members of the group told the university paper that they have big plans for the spring semester, including a barbeque, weekly meetings and “Gayme” night, presumably meaning members of the queer community who are also gamers. I get it. I’m into it. State Hornet
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Los Angeles: Overcast 68 San Diego: Overcast 63 San Francisco: Rainy 55 San Jose: Rainy 63 Fresno: Overcast 74 Sacramento: Cloudy 66
Today’s California memory is from Terry Ng:
We were visiting California from our home, Singapore, and had booked a motel close to Hearst Castle on Highway 1 on our trip down the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles. We arrived at dusk and had an early evening. The morning view that shone into our rooms brought mesmeric views of the Pacific Ocean framed by misty skies to us while still in bed. Looking down the steep slope to the beach below, we heard the faint crash of the endless waves on the rocks. Sea birds flew at our eye level and in the distance, we saw a pod of magnificent sea lions. Nature certainly charmed us with a plethora of her beauty that morning!
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