An incoming freshman at UC Santa Barbara is suing the university to remove a suspension that has barred him from attending the school since August.
The student, listed as John Doe in court documents, is currently under investigation and was suspended on Aug. 30 after the university “received several student complaints about a 19-second video depicting [Doe] threatening to assault a young woman,” according to the UC Regents’ brief to the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Ventura.
According to a letter from Doe’s lawyer, Robert P. Ottilie, addressed to the Regents and the Office of the Chancellor at UCSB, the university has suspended Doe indefinitely since the end of August despite not having charged him with any violation of rules.
“Yet, even though my client has never been charged by UCSB with any violation of University rules, he sits out of school and it is now clear he will miss the entire school year unless a court ultimately intervenes,” Ottilie said in the letter.
Ottilie said UCSB abused a certain section of the UC Regents’ policy on student conduct to hold Doe in suspension, and he wrote in his letter that he hopes they will revoke the statute.
“I want to be certain the two of you [Chancellor Henry Yang and the Regents] know how the Regents’ statute, §105.08, has been abused at UCSB this year. I write for myself, in an effort to educate you and others to revoke this statute,” Ottilie said in a letter. “It seems to me that there is a pattern. Remove certain students from campus, tell them it is only ‘temporary’ until they are investigated, provide little or no support, and then just not investigate. Students without resources will give up and go away.”
In their brief to the court of appeal, the Regents said “the 19-second video depicting [Doe] threatening to assault a young woman amply justified the interim suspension while the University completes its investigation.”
Ottilie said Doe’s suspension violated the statute’s requirement that the student appears likely to commit violence or be a threat to safety and that the suspension be the “least restrictive necessary.”
The Regents said in their brief to the appeal court that they deemed the video evidence sufficient to prove the student was a threat.
“Here, the threatening video coupled with additional evidence in the University’s possession provided the University with sufficient cause to believe [Doe] posed a sufficient threat to campus safety,” the Regents said in their brief.
Ottilie said he was concerned about the way that university suspended the incoming student without being given charges and said he had “never heard of a school that suspends students without charges.”
In an interview with the Nexus, Ottilie said he discovered the case of another student in a similar situation who has also been suspended from UCSB without charges of violating the university’s rules. The other student, referred to as Susan Doe in the letter, “has been missing her entire freshman year, suspended without any underlying investigation, let alone charges or conviction.”
Doe filed an emergency petition for a writ of prohibition to the court of appeal on Feb. 3, which the court accepted on Feb. 7 but has not yet granted. A writ of prohibition is an order from an appellate court to a lower one directing the lower court to act in a particular way. In the lawsuit, John is seeking an injunction from the appellate court which would in effect end his suspension. Ottilie expects the appellate court will give a decision on whether it will provide his client’s requested injunction on his suspension before the beginning of the Spring Quarter.
According to Ottilie, John and Susan Doe are both minority students and, in his letter, raised the concern that the university is mistreating them by providing suspensions that they are unable to legally contest because of a lack of financial resources.
“It certainly concerns me that one of the most powerful institutions in our State has treated two young minority students, without financial resources, in such a way,” Ottilie said in a letter.
UCSB spokesperson Andrea Estrada said she could not comment on the particular case, but she said the university holds the “safety and wellbeing” of students as its “highest priority.”
“We are committed to policies that protect our campus community and survivors of assault while affording fair and consistent due process to those who have been accused,” Estrada said in an email. “The University recognizes the need to ensure that community members have the right to equitable procedures, and we strive to treat each student with dignity and respect.”
Correction: The language regarding John Doe’s emergency petition was made clearer to show the relationship between the appellate and lower court.