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Davis

Davis, California

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Family of accused claims UC Davis’ investigation of sexual harassment led to 2015 suicide

UC DAVIS / COURTESY

University staff excursion investigated for sexual misconduct, misuse of University funds

On Oct. 11, 2015, Christopher De Los Santos, a chief administrative officer at UC Davis’ College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, committed suicide after sexual harassment allegations by the University, according to an article recently published by The Sacramento Bee. After co-workers accused De Los Santos of sexual harassment on a university-paid weekend trip, the University suspended Santos with pay.

Since then, De Los Santos’ family has filed a federal lawsuit against UC Davis and former chancellor Linda Katehi, accusing the University of handling the sexual harassment allegations differently due to De Los Santos’ military background.

The lawsuit posits veteran discrimination, a federal violation. Lisa De Los Santos, De Los Santos’ wife says he was told he was suspended and to stay away from campus because of fear of him “showing up with a gun.” This was his first non-military job since leaving his position at the Air Force, according to The Bee.

The federal lawsuit against the University and then-chancellor Katehi states that De Los Santos likely did not understand that these allegations would not be made public. De Los Santos’ family lawyer said he could have been worried about publicity and legal proceedings, also citing veteran suicide risk factors.

The 17 members of the “Phoenix Cluster” — a nickname for a group De Los Santos was involved in under the Department of Entomology and Nematology — were all interviewed as witnesses by the University’s fact-finding investigation after employees filed complaints. De Los Santos is not explicitly named in the report, but his title is used. Every witness name on the released report is redacted as well.

“The report was filed October 9, 2015 […] charging that their manager [De Los Santos] engaged in improper conduct while in their hotel room, occuring late in the night on October 7,” the investigation states. “The allegations include his making unwanted physical contact with one of the complainants; entering the bathroom and removing all of his clothing in the presence of two of the parties; stepping into the bathtub while naked; and re-entering the hotel room in his boxer shorts.”

The second allegation under the Oct. 7-8 staff retreat “Report of Fact-Finding Investigation” found misuse of university funds. The report mentioned extravagant personal costs, stating that the “university research funds were expended for a two-day retreat held in an expensive locale involving high lodging and meal costs, while University business was not conducted on one of the days.” Additionally, the report states that the retreat cost a total of $6,639.81, which, according to The Bee, “came out of grant funding rather than state or federal funds.”

One witness that spoke to the investigation committee likened the staff retreat to a ”booze cruise” that was under the guise of University business — the trip was intended as a staff retreat to tour lettuce farms in Salinas. Administrators Sandra Vice and Suzzette Garcia admitted to “drinking vodka and cranberry juice” during the car ride to the retreat; Garcia still has an office at UC Davis, according to The Bee.

According to a witness in the report, De Los Santos said that some employees must share beds with coworkers to save cost. At one point, Vice told another staff member to buy De Los Santos a large beer using the University credit card. In a hotel room shared by Toni Goodin, the driver of Garcia and Vice, additional staffers, including De Los Santos, drank after returning from a dinner where drinking occurred.

At a certain point in the night, two female occupants of the room went to the bathroom “to wash up, hoping that they’d leave when they saw them getting ready for bed.” Rather than follow that cue, the report says, De Los Santos followed them to the bathroom and suggested a bath with the women. They reported that he undressed and entered the bathtub alone, while they walked out. One witness said, “By now I’m thinking, what the f is going on?”

Witnesses corroborate that De Los Santos was deliberately “urged to leave” and made all parties uncomfortable with his intoxication. When interviewed, one of the woman with De Los Santos talked about her shock the next morning after waking up: “How are we going to spend the day with this guy?” the woman stated.

Three of 16 interviewees said they saw De Los Santos’ disrobing.

On a Sunday following the Oct. 7 to 8 weekend, Santos received an email from UC Davis placing him on leave following sexual harassment allegations that had surfaced. De Los Santos called his wife, told her about the allegations and said they were untrue. He then drove to a field in Rio Linda and fatally shot himself.

Kimberly Hale, the UC Davis interim director for news and media relations under Strategic Communications, explained the process of the university handling sexual allegations, both on and off-site.

“During Col. De Los Santos’ three months with the University, he was the Chief Administrative Officer and responsible for management of all staff activities for his unit,” Hale said via email. “After the university received allegations of potential sexual harassment during an overnight staff retreat, he was promptly placed on paid administrative leave so a thorough investigation could occur. Although many of the employees who attended the retreat were not involved in any improper conduct, those who were received appropriate disciplinary action. Other actions were taken to ensure that similar misconduct did not occur in the future.”

Hale talked about how the University views the lawsuit as “unfortunate,” mentioning the University’s steadfast sexual misconduct policy and expressed “sympathy” towards De Los Santos’ family.

“The University is committed to maintaining a workplace that is free from sexually-harassing conduct,” Hale said. “This commitment extends to off site, work-related events. The University is equally committed to upholding its obligation to monitor the proper use of available resources. With sympathy to the De Los Santos family, the University maintains that the filing of this lawsuit is an unfortunate development in an already tragic situation.”

 

Written by: Aaron Liss — campus@theaggie.org

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