Police are investigating a claim that Santa Clara Councilman Dominic Caserta pressed his clothed groin on a young woman, according to sources who spoke to San Jose Inside on condition of anonymity. Meanwhile, at least three other people have filed police reports against the 43-year-old Santa Clara High teacher since the city put out a call on Wednesday urging potential victims to come forward.
It’s unclear how many of the claims will result in criminal charges—if any at all. That’s up to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, Santa Clara spokeswoman Jennifer Yamaguma explained.
The city has also been trying to find past police reports involving Caserta that seem to have either gone missing or never been filed in the first place.
Santa Clara Unified School District records show that officers in May of 2002 interviewed three high school girls who accused Caserta of sexually harassing them. San Jose Inside asked the police department for records of those visits, but officials say they have yet to find them. Though they identified a report from that same month involving student-on-student sexual harassment claims, they said nothing has turned up involving a teacher.
“Under today’s policing standards, an incident report would be filed for an allegation of this nature,” city officials stated in a press release. “However, it may be that a police report alleging sexual harassment or misconduct was not filed at the time. … At this time, the police department is actively searching its archives to determine if it has any police records, given that it has been publicly reported that an officer was called for service.”
In addition to rifling through paper archives for any paper trail on Caserta, the city will hold a public hearing at 7pm next Tuesday for the public to testify about the controversial civics teacher, whose council colleagues may ask him to resign in light of the misconduct charges that surfaced earlier this week.
Caserta—who maintains his innocence—went from being one of the frontrunners in a competitive Santa Clara County supervisor race to losing all major endorsements in the span of a day after San Jose Inside reported on numerous sexual harassment allegations against him. Two claims involving four high school students resulted in corrective action in 2002 and again in 2009.
But another more damning accusation came Tuesday from a campaign volunteer who worked with him out of his home up until last week. Lydia Jungkind, 19, said Caserta—who taught her political science class at Foothill College last year—caressed her thighs and hips, kissed her on the cheek, gave her massages and once summoned her to his bedroom while he was shirtless and under the covers.
Caserta’s former campaign manager, Ian Crueldad, as well as other sources said they witnessed some of the behavior and that the candidate would routinely walk around in nothing but his underwear or a bath towel around his waist.
San Jose Inside this past week has heard accounts from close to 50 former students, colleagues and campaign volunteers who affirmed that Caserta, who is tenured, has trouble controlling his temper, makes inappropriate sexual comments, ogles girls in class and engages in unwanted touching. Meanwhile, social media has been lighting up with comments about how Caserta’s impropriety has been an open secret for decades.
Clap once if Caserta creeped on you?? https://t.co/FwtlZSNn64
— Adriana? (@HeyItsAyedree) May 9, 2018
“I was in his class in 2004 and was on the receiving end of his actions,” one woman chimed in on a Facebook thread about Caserta. “The guy was a creep then and is one now. I didn’t think much of the incident then (everyone knew about how he was and what he did) but now thinking about it as a parent it makes my stomach physically sick.”
“This jackass should be removed from the classroom,” another commenter added. “I feel bad for any females that have this pervert as a teacher. I had him in 2002, he was inappropriate then. I guess he hasn’t changed after 16 years.”
Tamara Pantic, who had Caserta as a teacher at the end of 2016, said that while he never sexually harassed her, she saw him flirt with his teaching assistant and make jokes about some of the students’ virginity.
“There was this unspoken agreement that if your friend had to talk to him after class, then you stayed with them,” she said in a phone interview.
Pantic said her own problems with Caserta stemmed from his verbal and emotional abuse, which began with him screaming at her in the second week of the school year for pulling out her cellphone in class. She said he called her “disgusting” and “despicable” in front of the whole class. For the rest of the term, she said, her anxiety was so bad that she had to take antacids before walking into the classroom.
“I couldn’t speak up in class without crying or breaking down in tears,” Pantic said.
Though she eventually learned to endure his classes, she said he never apologized and that the anxiety has persisted into her college career at UC Berkeley.
To add salt to the wound, someone from Caserta’s campaign for supervisor left a door hanger and law sign with a personal message for Pantic earlier this year.
“He definitely did not have my permission to do that,” she said.
Records show that Caserta has been reprimanded by district staff before for using student information to solicit campaign support, but several students and their parents say that hasn’t deterred him.
“I, too, found Caserta’s behavior creepy and upsetting when I was a student,” said Sophia Kakarala, who took his class in 2015 and now lives in the United Kingdom. “At the time, I put it down to him being a bad teacher and a bit of an egotist. He abused his power in plenty of other ways: collecting and storing our personal details, pressuring current and former students into helping with his campaigns, having his teaching assistants, who were other students, go out and buy him coffee. I never put this together with his derogatory comments about women and his consistently strange treatment of female students. Knowing that students had been complaining for 12 years would have helped me see his behavior for what it was: misogyny and sexual harassment.”
Students who took his class in the past year say Caserta’s alleged bullying and sexually charged behavior continues to this day and to this semester.
“Caserta is degrading, misogynistic and disrespectful to his students and fellow teachers,” said a current Santa Clara High senior who asked not to be named. “He bullies his student teacher and forces him to agree with his twisted comments in order to pass, and has accused students of being high or using drugs for no reason whatsoever. He makes passes at certain girls, and his intentions are disgustingly obvious. He spent a whole class taking about how women have used their bodies to trap successful men into tough situations, and showed us videos of Marilyn Monroe singing happy birthday to JFK and then ranting for 10 minutes afterwards about how hot her body was and how much sex they had. Another time he encouraged us to marry rich men if we wanted a future.”
She said she can vouch for the rumors about his temper, too.
“He’s like a raging ball of anger,” the 17-year-old said.
A former teaching colleague said she complained in the past about Caserta repeatedly calling her a vile expletive after she confronted him about violating a testing policy.
“During my last semester at [Santa Clara High School] he greeted me in the hall with, ‘you’re still here c—t?’” she said, asking to withhold her name for fear of reprisal. “Yeah … that is the Dominic that I know. He … has a healthy reputation for sexually harassing students and other teachers. We have all complained over the years but the district did nothing to change his employment and behavior.”
Some students said they wanted to submit complaints about Caserta, but didn’t know how to beyond offering a verbal report. Some of the students who told administrators about Caserta’s lewd comments, angry outbursts or flirtatious demeanor in class said they never heard any follow-up.
Councilwoman Kathy Watanabe acknowledged that she had long heard rumors of Caserta’s misbehavior, and that she’s relieved that the revelations surfaced when they did because her daughter was due to take his civics class next fall. Mayor Lisa Gillmor said she, too, had heard the stories, but they were always second- or third-hand.
“I was sickened to see the depth of this, the depth of these allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior,” Gillmor said. “And the comments keep coming. So I’m really trying to figure out, on behalf of the residents of Santa Clara, how to address this fairly and promptly.”
On Wednesday, the city hired Sam Singer, a high-profile crisis management firm, to help navigate the situation. Gillmor then scheduled the Tuesday hearing, which she hopes will give victims some recourse and help the city determine the scope of the problem.
“We’re treading on new ground,” Gillmor said. “As more and more people started sharing their stories, it became evident that we would have to be very responsible and, while recognizing that Caserta deserves his due process, provide the forum for the public to come forward.”
Caserta, who has yet to respond to San Jose Inside’s request for comment, has told other news outlets that he plans to stay in the county supes race and defend his reputation. His attorney, John Mlnarik, said this morning that his client has “no other comment.”
“The accusations against him are false and we look forward to clearing his name,” Mlnarik said in a text message.
The Santa Clara Unified, for its part, has offered little in the way of information except to say that Caserta still has his job and that the district takes the allegations “very seriously.”
“We have a process we use to investigate all allegations,” said SCUSD Assistant Superintendent of School Support and District Development Andrew Lucia, who also oversees all sexual harassment claims as Title IX coordinator. “We want to make sure that the process is followed appropriately. Employees have due process rights.”
Lucia could not immediately provide statistics about the number of sexual harassment claims the district fields year to year. And a request for the total number of complaints filed against Caserta were treated as a former California Public Records Act query, which will take another week or so to process.
But sources inside the district say poor record keeping, disbelief and fear of costly litigation has enabled Caserta to keep his job even though he continues to behave in ways that have resulted in formal discipline in the past.
Caserta has not showed up to work since Jungkind went public with her allegations on Tuesday, which quickly appeared on his Wikipedia page and landed him on an online database of accused sexual harassers called CreepSheet.com. He also skipped that evening’s council meeting—though his colleagues voted unanimously to excuse his absence—and was a no-show at a Thursday night candidate forum.
Jungkind, for her part, has been making appearances on TV interviews and speaking openly to reporters about her claims.