Warning: This article contains graphic content relating to child pornography.
A researcher in UC Santa Barbara’s psychological & brain sciences department was arrested in June and charged in July with possession or control of child pornography, demarcated as a serious, violent and registerable sex offense felony.
Three months after his arrest, Matthew Peterson is still employed by UCSB as a researcher, UCSB Public Relations Manager Kiki Reyes told the Nexus in an email, saying that the university was aware of the allegations made against him.
Child sex abuse material was found via a successfully executed warrant by the UC Police Department and Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office on Peterson’s UC-issued laptop on June 29, according to a summary of the police activities in Carpinteria from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office and published in Coastal View News.
Court records obtained by the Nexus state that the material was in Peterson’s possession “on or about and between January 1, 2020 and June 29, 2022.”
“We can confirm that he is a researcher who is employed as an academic appointee but that we cannot comment on personnel matters. He does not teach any classes,” Reyes said in her statement to the Nexus.
“The University is aware of the allegations involving this researcher and cannot comment further on any specific details,” she said. “Generally, when such reports are disclosed to any University official or mandated reporter, the information is forwarded to the Title IX office for review and response under the University’s Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment Policy. The University will respond appropriately under this policy and associated procedures.”
In July 2020, UCSB received a $157,196 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to investigate how various groups recognize and encode faces over the course of three years. Peterson served as principal investigator on the project, along with co-principal investigator UCSB psychological & brain sciences professor Miguel Eckstein, who declined to comment on the allegations against his research partner.
The research examined three different populations: adults between age 18 and 50, adults with developmental prosopagnosia, and children between age 5 and 17. The research investigators set out to examine children’s behaviors as they age over the course of the study, according to the initial project abstract. UCSB declined to state whether Peterson interacted with any of the children that may have taken part in the study, and whether or not the research project is continuing following Peterson’s arrest.
Staff Associate for Strategic Communications at NSF Jason Stoughton confirmed the research’s award end date is still set for Aug. 31, 2023, and declined to provide further detail.
Research Integrity Specialist Melissa Warren and Human Subjects Specialist Rebeca Lopez, who both serve on the Research Integrity team at the UCSB Office of Research, declined to provide any information about the research Peterson was undertaking, or whether he interacted with any human subjects over the course of his research.
The UCSB Police Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Peterson, along with his criminal defense attorney Sanford Horowitz, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the Sept. 22, 2022 print edition of the Daily Nexus.