Lawsuit blames UC Davis for colonel’s suicide
DAVIS, Calif. (AP) — The widow and children of a former University of California, Davis official who killed himself after he was accused of sexual harassment are suing the university for allegedly driving him to suicide.
The suit claims Col. Christopher De Los Santos was notified by email of the accusations and told he was suspended and to stay away from campus. It says other university employees accused of sexual harassment were not placed on leave nor barred from campus pending investigation, the Sacramento Bee reported Thursday.
De Los Santos, who killed himself on October 11, 2015, was chief of an arm of the Department of Entomology and Nematology. Days earlier he had led a group of 16 staffers on a two-day trip to a lettuce-growing operation in nearby Salinas that was meant to be a bonding trip. Instead, it turned into an alcohol-fueled bender that led to sexual harassment accusations against him, according to statements made by other employees in documents obtained by the newspaper.
The documents said De Los Santos was accused of stripping naked and asking underlings to join him in a bathtub inside a hotel room. The day the group returned to Davis, two employees filed a complaint against him over his alleged behavior, according to a UC Davis report.
The documents also show two employees were demoted and the university conducted an internal investigation.
Two associate deans asked that De Los Santos be notified of the suspension while he was away from campus because they were concerned he would “show up with a gun,” according to the lawsuit, which said UC Davis discriminated against De Los Santos because he was a veteran, a violation of federal law.
The recently hired Air Force colonel and his wife and two young children were on their way to church when De Los Santos received the email, the suit said. He asked his wife to turn around and drop him off at home — the last time his family saw him alive. His body was found in his car.
Annabelle Robertson, an attorney for the family, said the colonel had never worked outside the military and likely did not understand his rights or know that the complaint he faced would be handled confidentially.
“There’s no question in my mind, in the minds of our veterans’ suicide expert, that Col. De Los Santos assumed that these allegations would be the subject of dramatic coverage, that he would potentially be arrested and tried in a court of law, and potentially recalled by the military to be tried under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and that is precisely the reason that lawmakers have protected veterans from discrimination in employment,” she said.
UC Davis said in a statement it did nothing wrong in handling the sexual harassment claims filed against De Los Santos, who it called a “valued and promising new member of the university community.” It said the university was taking appropriate “interim steps” for all employees while an investigation was conducted.
“The university’s actions were entirely appropriate under the circumstances, and this lawsuit is an unfortunate development in an already tragic situation,” UC Davis said.
Information from: The Sacramento Bee, http://www.sacbee.com