Warning: This article contains graphic content.
A UC Santa Barbara student is suing UCSB Police Department Chief of Police James Brock for sexual battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence after he allegedly assaulted her at De La Guerra Dining Commons in August 2019.
The lawsuit was filed on July 31 in Santa Barbara County; as of September 2020, there are now seven active lawsuits filed in the county against members of the UCSB UC Police Department (UCPD).
During the alleged assault, Brock came up behind the student, identified as Emily O. in the lawsuit to protect her privacy, “grabbed her buttocks, slid his hand up her back and whispered in her ear,” the lawsuit states. She was taking a lunch break from one of her on-campus jobs at the time and immediately reported the incident to her supervisors and later to the UCPD Office.
In an interview with the Nexus, Emily O. said that Brock whispered to her “in a seductive tone that makes your skin crawl” during the assault.
“UCSB failed to take any measures to hold him accountable for my sexual assault,” Emily O. told the Nexus. “I hope UCSB will enforce measures to better protect their students, and honestly, I just want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone again because this has been the worst thing I’ve ever had to go through.”
After initially reporting the incident, UCPD referred Emily O. to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office due to a conflict of interest, according to Monique Fierro, Emily O.’s attorney.
In an email to the Nexus regarding the lawsuit, university spokesperson Andrea Estrada said that the university is “aware of the complaint in which an employee tripped and fell into another employee in a busy dining commons.”
“Both an external investigator for the University and an external law enforcement agency conducted separate investigation of the claims when they first arose,” she continued. “The multiple investigations did not substantiate the allegations. The University will allow the process to move forward and we trust the court system will reach the correct conclusion.”
During the Title IX investigation into her claims, Emily O. resigned from two employment positions on campus to avoid contact with Brock, as he would occasionally patrol the campus area near her former jobs. The lawsuit is asking for damages in the loss of income that Emily O. faced because of her resignations, along with other punitive and compensatory damages from Brock and the UC Regents.
Brock was named the interim chief of police one month after a lawsuit was filed against the UCPD in March 2019.
Emily O.’s claims follow a series of six active lawsuits that were filed in Santa Barbara County involving current and former UCSB UCPD police officers alleging serious misconduct, including sexism and racism: Michael Little and Tiffany Little v. UC Regents, Mark Signa v. UC Regents, John Doe v. UC Regents, Jonathan Lee Reyes v. UC Regents, Matthew Stern v. UC Regents and Amanda Siegel v. UC Regents.
The lawsuit by Emily O. also alleges that the UC Regents failed to provide an educational and employment environment free from sexual assault and sex discrimination, and that UCSB’s Title IX office failed to conduct a timely investigation into the alleged assault and battery.
Emily O. made a formal Title IX complaint on Aug. 16, 2019, but did not hear the results of her case until April 27, 2020. She said that the UCSB Title IX office told her in a letter that her claim did not substantiate its criteria for “sexual assault — contact,” and denied her a copy of her Title IX report.
A Title IX investigation is typically conducted within 60 to 90 days, according to UC Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment Policy, but the time frame may be extended “for a good cause.” In total, Emily O.’s Title IX investigation took 255 days, according to the lawsuit.
Fierro said that UCSB’s Title IX office hired an independent investigator to look into Emily O.’s claims, but that the findings of that investigation were never disclosed.
“They denied us access to any of their findings, citing his rights as a police officer to his privacy,” Fierro said. “So, unfortunately, we don’t know what the real outcome of the investigation was.”
Emily O. said she was told by the Title IX office to remain silent about the alleged assault with her friends or family in order to protect Brock’s privacy.
“I felt so alienated from my friends and family and I couldn’t really talk to anyone about it,” Emily O. said.
“I feel like James Brock ruined UCSB for me, and UCSB ruined UCSB for me. I didn’t feel safe on campus anymore. I moved out of I.V. because I didn’t feel safe anymore, but it’s still a constant source of fear for me seeing anyone else from UCPD because they all work under him and no one’s done anything about it,” Emily O. said.
Fierro, who has represented UCSB students who filed sexual assault lawsuits in the past, believes the Title IX office needs to change its policies so survivors aren’t “in the dark” during investigations.
“Over and over I’m seeing the Title IX office intimidate survivors and victims of sexual assault to the point where they feel like they can’t even talk to their friends and family,” she said. “That’s got to change at UCSB because they’re essentially retaliating against survivors and victims of sexual assault [who come] forward to report their claim.”
Estrada said that the “standard Title IX charge notice in any given case” tells the complainant that confidentiality is “crucial to protecting the integrity of the investigation and the privacy rights of all involved parties.” The notice also “suggests” that a complainant not discuss the matter with anyone other than one support person and/or advisor, or a Title IX office representative.
The lawsuit accuses both Brock and the UC Regents of negligence, stating that the Regents had knowledge of the reported sexual assault and battery and failed to take “reasonable remedial measures” to ensure Brock didn’t pose an ongoing threat to Emily O.
Fierro said that “protecting Chief Brock has been the university’s only priority,” and that the university should have put protections in place to keep Emily O. from potentially seeing Brock on campus during the investigation.
She said the university had an obligation to publicly report the incident under the Clery Act, a federal law requiring colleges and universities to publicly report particular crimes that occur on campus and are reported to police. The Clery Act includes sex crimes, listed as rape, fondling, incest and statutory rape.
Estrada said that the Clery Act applies to “all reports of Clery crimes that are alleged to have occurred in the University’s Clery Geography,” which includes De La Guerra Dining Commons. She added that Emily O.’s report is being included in the Annual Security Report, as required by the Clery Act.
Fierro said the university could have also suspended Brock without pay and used no-contact orders to prevent him from engaging with Emily O.’s clubs and places of employment where there was a chance he’d see her.
“[A survivor’s] fear of being on campus, their fear of the person they reported to have sexually assaulted them, is a legitimate fear that the university has a duty to address, and making sure Emily was provided an educational environment free from discrimination and harassment based on her sex,” Fierro said.
“They didn’t consider Brock’s sexual assault against her extreme enough to warrant any measures against him. And so he was allowed full confidentiality and protections still to this day, while Emily had to continue going to classes, lose educational opportunities, student groups and a couple employment positions because of his presence on campus,” Fierro said.
As defendants in the case, both Brock and the UC Regents must file a written response to the lawsuit by Sept. 29. The lawsuit will then move into case management this November.
Fierro said that this case also speaks to the larger issue of campus safety — by failing to take any safety measures against Brock during the investigation, the university is putting its entire student population at risk.
“When a police officer sexually assaults a member of the public … they’re abusing their authority as a police officer,” Fierro said. “The victim, let alone the public, loses all ability to trust law enforcement when they abuse their power in this way.”
Correction [09/10/2020, 1:18 p.m.]: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that James Brock was promoted permanently to chief of police. This article has been corrected to reflect that Brock is the interim chief of police.