Photo Credits: VENOOS MOSHAYEDI / AGGIE FILE
Police found stolen art supplies, projects, citation for trespassing in ransacked professor’s office
An individual by the name of Nicholas Chavez was arrested on Feb. 21 on charges of felony vandalism. Prior to his arrest, Chavez had been occupying a professor’s office in the Art Building on campus for several weeks without notice, according to several accounts from students and staff in the Art Department who work in or attend class in the Art Building on campus, located near Mrak Hall and Shields Library.
Chavez, identified as a “transient person” and neither a UC Davis student or staff member, had also loitered in the Music Building and Wright Hall. UC Davis police responded to a report at 4 a.m. on Feb. 21 after a student reported “damage to an office door” in the Art Building, according to a UC Davis news article.
“Nicholas Chavez was found asleep in the office and arrested and transported to Yolo County jail,” the article states.
Chavez first attracted attention when he allegedly sexually assaulted fourth-year art studio major Stephanie Lee while she was in the building last Fall Quarter. The police arrested Chavez soon after the sexual assault incident occurred, but Lee said she did not know she had to decide to press charges only moments after identifying Chavez at the police station. Since she took time to decide whether or not to press charges, the police released Chavez.
Throughout this quarter, art students’ art supplies and projects have gone missing, a second, separate student was sexually harassed and the bathrooms were graffitied, according to students in the Art Department. Shortly after the sexual harassment incident with a separate female student, Lee received emails about an unauthorized visitor in the art building that matched the name of the individual she identified at the police station. The unauthorized visitor has been living in the office of Professor Julie Wyman, who is currently on sabbatical.
Individuals in the art department were given a description of Chavez: a 5’10” white male with shoulder-length curly hair.
Lee said she later realized there was a connection between her assault and certain incidents occurring in the Art Building this quarter. But once she came to that realization, Chavez was no longer in police custody.
A town hall was held in Wright Theatre on Feb. 13 to address the recent events regarding Chavez.
Among the speakers present were Lieutenants Bill Beermann and Mike Green of the UC Davis Campus Police Department, Danesha Nichols from the Harassment and Discrimination Assistance and Prevention Program, interim counseling director Paul Kim and Jennifer Chow, an assistant director at the Office of Student Support and Judicial Affairs.
Beermann began the town hall by recapping the events that began in November of last year, referencing the Lee’s assault by Chavez. Chavez had previously been kicked off campus property and was told to not return for seven days. That agreement was broken, leading to their arrest, but not for the crime committed against the student.
Lee notified advisors about the re-emergence of this individual who sexually assaulted her last quarter, yet she said that there has been no significant response to her report.
“The university released an email last quarter to me, specifically saying that because this unauthorized visitor — Nick — is not a member of staff, faculty or students, they don’t have any jurisdiction over him and his actions,” Lee said. “I believe the police issued a seven-day restraining order on him, but, to my knowledge, those are pretty much useless because the only consequence for breaking those is getting one reissued.”
Before the Feb. 21 arrest, Lee said she had decided to move forward with pressing charges against Chavez because she thought police would not be able to arrest him for the recent incidents of stealing, allegedly sexually harassing a separate student and living on the third floor of the Art Building because the evidence linking him to these allegations is circumstantial.
“I decided to prosecute even though it’s kind of difficult and it’s going to cost me time and money and transportation and all that, which I don’t have, but it’s something that needs to be done,” she said.
And Beermann said the case is still open with hopes that a resolution will be reached soon, as a warrent for the subject’s arrest was placed the week before this town hall.
Since the assault, Lee said her life has been significantly affected, especially in light of the recurring emergence of Chavez. She stopped staying late after classes and working overnight in the studio. This affected her ability to get her work done and achieve academic success. Professionally, Lee’s job in the art office has her feeling uncomfortable in fear that Chavez will walk in someday.
“Everyone’s just really scared and we just want to know that something’s being done,” Lee said. “We want to make sure that people aren’t just walking around in danger.”
An art student who wished to remain anonymous said that they no longer felt safe in the building after police were unable to locate Chavez after he reportedly made slurping and kissing sounds at a female student.
“I still went back days and days after the event occurred but I’m not the same afterwards because I’ll be in there and it’ll be quiet and I’ll just hear the slightest sound and it’ll trigger me,” the student said. “I’ll turn around, and I’ll be freaked out and I’ll be expecting to see somebody. Even when I take my friend with me and she’ll be just spacing out looking in the direction of the door, I’ll get freaked out because I’ll think she’s looking at him.”
Jesse Vasquez, the lab assistant for the photo areas in the Art Building, echoed concerns that not enough has been done to resolve this situation even after staff and students have followed police directions.
“It doesn’t seem like they’re taking the severity of this [into consideration],” Vasquez said. “The student body’s been very upset and they’re feeling quite abandoned. [The police have] been putting out these alerts that aren’t really getting to anybody. We put up a bunch of signs saying call the police if you see anything suspicious. I wanted to have something that had this guy’s description, his full name and a picture — which the cops have — which they haven’t released.”
Students expressed frustration during the town hall with the lack of information being shared by campus police. At the town hall on Feb. 13, Beermann and Green repeatedly told students that since it’s an open case, not much can be said about it. Beermann agreed to try and increase foot patrols in and around the art building, but explained it simply isn’t possible for someone to be there constantly.
Another reason students felt uneasy is the fact they don’t know what the intruder looked like, but again, police were unwilling to share such information from an open case. What Green and Beermann proposed instead is a line up containing several photographs so as not to single out the intruder.
In an interview with The California Aggie, Vasquez explained that students were scared because of the access Chavez has to their studio and the disregard he displayed of the no-trespassing citation issued before many of the incidents occured this quarter.
None of the emails informing the Art Department of the situation included information about the sexual assault and harassment incidents and only mentioned that Chavez is an unauthorized visitor, Vasquez said.
After a female supervisor sent out an email, Vasquez followed up with an email of his own, acknowledging the sexual assault and harassment aspect that was being left out.
“She got back to me immediately saying that she felt like I’m undermining her,” Vasquez said. “That’s not my intention, but the information is not out and people are not going to be taking it for the urgency. I think it deserves if the information is not there.”
Only students within the art department received a notification about an unauthorized visitor, despite the fact that classes for many different departments are scheduled in the Art Building.
In response to the lack of a campus-wide email sent out to inform students and staff about the situation, UC Davis’ Director of News and Media Relations Melissa Blouin said via email that a campus-wide notification was not sent because the individual was not viewed as a current threat.
“A transient person has been causing some issues in the Art and Music buildings as well as Wright Hall,” Blouin said. “Recently, it was discovered that this same person had been in the Art building a few months ago and allegedly grabbed a student. At that time, he was taken to jail for trespassing. No campus notification was sent at the time because the person was in jail and therefore not an imminent threat.”
Blouin was unable to provide additional details because the investigation is ongoing. UCDPD did not respond to request for comment at the time of publication of this article.
Written by: Sabrina Habchi — firstname.lastname@example.org
Campus News reporter Deana Medina also contributed to this report. Portions of this story which appear here, reflecting the most recent updates concerning this situation, were not included in the print edition.