A Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) fire truck sits outside the department’s office in the Center for Communication and Business. A DPS fire truck is where the Jan. 15, 2019 incident took place between Jane Doe and Jon Smith. Photo by Milan Loiacono
Warning: This story contains explicit descriptions of a reported sexual assault.
Editor’s note: *Names have been changed to protect the individuals’ privacy.
It was nighttime and raining; former Department of Public Safety (DPS) Student Officer Jane Doe* was finishing her shift Jan. 15, 2019, around 11 p.m., when her co-worker and fellow student John Smith* gave her a ride back to her dorm.
From the moment the two left Public Safety’s main office building in the Center for Communication and Business (CCB), the reported events of the night contrast drastically between them, according to a Title IX Notice from the Office of Community Standards — a document which includes the DPS Incident Report. The events of the night, however, ultimately resulted in a sexual assault allegation that launched department-wide investigations: two conducted internally by the Department of Public Safety and Pepperdine’s Human Resources, and a third investigation by an independent firm.
No report was ever made about the incident to law enforcement, and Smith faced no legal charges. Smith was cleared of the allegation by the University, but the incident and investigations raised questions about how the department conducts internal investigations and the role that played in the Student Disciplinary Committee’s decision making.
“The University is confident in the outcomes of this investigation and remains committed to fostering an environment that prioritizes the well-being of its students,” the University wrote in an email statement.
The January 2019 Incident (Jane Doe’s Account)
Events of the night started when Doe left work Jan. 15 to return to her dorm at Seaside Residence Hall. Smith was driving Doe back in the DPS fire truck when Doe said he took an unusual route. Doe said Smith, who was still on his shift, told her he was going to conduct an area check of Alumni Park and show her the LA County helicopter parked there.
The two drove down to Alumni Park. Smith parked the DPS fire truck at the park and turned to her saying, “This is something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Doe recalled that Smith moved closer in an attempt to kiss her. The DPS fire truck has a long bench seat with no middle console, so Doe said she was pressed up against the passenger side as she tried to push him away, saying, “No.”
Smith proceeded to put his hands down her pants and underwear, and she tried to push him away.
“Then he finally just shoved his hand down and, you know, just shoved his hand inside me,” Doe said. “I was trying to get him out, but he had clawed in, so it was hurting me to try and get him out. Whatever I was doing wasn’t working, so I just kind of stopped moving and just went limp and froze.”
Doe said Smith then leaned back, unbuckled his pants and wanted her to “return the favor.” After she refused, she said he angrily buckled his pants and took her to Seaside. On the way back, Smith reassured Doe that she was a “good person” and not a bad person for the events of the night.
The January 2019 Incident (John Smith’s account)
When contacted by the Graphic, Smith would not comment. His statements are taken from the Office of Community Standards’ document, which includes interviews from the DPS investigation.
Smith said Doe had asked him if he could take her to Alumni Park to see the helicopter. Once they arrived at Alumni, Smith said Doe leaned over and said, “My heart is beating fast, I really want to, but it’s wrong. What about if I just lean over and see what happens?”
Smith joked to her that he did not want to do anything because he did not want her to come back 50 years later, sue him and claim this as another instance of the Me Too movement. Doe responded with, “You’re fine.”
Smith told the investigators that Doe leaned over and kissed him on the lips as he pushed her away. As she went to kiss him a second time, he did not hold back and returned the kiss. Doe’s advances continued, and she grabbed his hand and guided it to her pelvic area.
In the Community Standards document, Smith said he did not penetrate her vagina with any part of his hand; rather, she was still holding his hand against her vagina during the time his hand was inside her pants. He also said he told Doe that he wanted to have sex but couldn’t.
Smith added that he had unbuckled his pants, but Doe said, “No.” He buckled his pants and told Doe he was going to take her to her dorm. After he dropped her off, he said he sent her a message via Snapchat asking her if she was OK; she replied to him that everything was fine.
Doe texted her friend at 11:57 p.m., that same night. The texts revealed Doe messaging the friend about how her coworker had touched her.
“I was kind of the one who encouraged her to report it,” Doe’s friend told the Graphic. “We were hoping Pepperdine would do something about it.”
The text conversation revealed Doe’s worry of losing her job, her father’s respect and her friends at work. Around 2 a.m. — now Jan. 16 — Doe said she took her friend’s advice and went to the DPS office. There, she reported her account to the officer who also worked as an investigator for Title IX.
Later that same morning, around 11 a.m., the investigator interviewed Smith regarding the incident.
In Smith’s interview, he gave his account of the incident, and he also brought up other incidents that involved Doe. He said Doe added him on Snapchat in October 2018, and around that time, she tried to kiss him inside a Pepperdine vehicle at Rockwell Towers. Smith also mentioned a past relationship Doe had with a former DPS student officer, according to the Community Standards document.
A couple of hours later, the investigators met with Doe.
“My interview was very — or it felt very — accusatory in the questions,” Doe said. “It felt like they were basically saying I was lying about this, because I didn’t really have any real evidence. After that interview, I had known this was a mistake. I shouldn’t have done this.”
Doe said the investigators asked her what she was wearing, to which she responded, “Jeans with a button and zipper and a shirt.”
“They asked me if I kissed him back, and they asked me if I had ever snapchatted him or texted him or flirted with him — if I thought he was cute,” Doe said.
In that interview with DPS, Doe addressed both the Rockwell Towers incident and a past romantic relationship within the department. Doe said she and Smith had never had a romantic relationship, and she never tried to kiss him in the Towers parking lot. She said Smith added her on Snapchat, and they messaged every once in a while.
As for her past relationship, Doe confirmed that she and another student officer started dating in the fall of 2017. She realized he had another girlfriend, and Doe and him called it off.
From Jan. 16 until the hearing on March 20, Smith was on a temporary leave from DPS, but he continued attending classes, Doe said. Doe continued to work at DPS as a student employee.
Within this time, both students had legal rights while in their workplace, explained Richard Vaznaugh, a California employment attorney. Vaznaugh — who has no connection to Doe’s case but focuses on workplace disputes — said any accuser (in this case, Doe) should be protected from retaliation. Doe said there were never direct actions such as her shifts being canceled, but she felt pushback in other ways.
“I got looks [at work]; if I turned into a room, everyone would leave,” Doe said. “I could hear people talking about me.”
For the accused, Vaznaugh said there is a right to a fair investigation and a right to privacy from the employer.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean the accuser has to keep it private,” Vaznaugh said.
Doe said she did not hear back from DPS or the Title IX office until her next interview Feb. 4 with Director of Public Safety Dawn Emrich.
Within those few weeks, other DPS officers who were on duty the night of the incident were interviewed by DPS investigators. The investigators asked the officers to recall that night and the interactions between Doe and Smith before they left the main building. The officers said that the only conversation between the two was about a movie Smith had been watching in the DPS briefing room.
Smith was interviewed again Feb. 1, this time by Emrich. He was asked to clarify details of the night. Smith was asked why he consented to a second kiss, and he responded by explaining that Doe “sleeps around” and listed four men within the department whom he claimed she had slept with.
One of the men Smith listed was a DPS investigator on the case. Doe said Smith’s claim that she was intimate with the investigator was false; that same investigator conducted no interviews regarding the incident past Jan. 24. He is not currently employed by DPS, Emrich wrote in an email.
Emrich interviewed Doe’s friend (who Doe texted the night of the incident) Feb. 4, the same day as Doe. Doe’s friend said the University contacted him once. The friend said Doe had never talked to him about Smith before, but she had opened up to him about a different sexual assault incident.
Doe also met with Emrich that day, according to the DPS reports. Like with Smith, Emrich asked for clarifying details regarding the alleged assault and previous encounters with Doe and Smith.
Other DPS officers discussed Doe’s relationships within DPS when asked by investigators if they had any knowledge of the incident or “knew of anything that might help in the resolution of the investigation.”
Because both Doe and Smith worked for DPS, the DPS investigation needed to be one of three, according to the University.
“In a situation where a primary investigation might be called into question, the University takes the necessary steps to ensure the soundness and integrity of its actions,” the University wrote in an email statement to the Graphic.
Emrich echoed this statement, writing, “If the reporting party and respondent are working for DPS, additional safeguards would be implemented to ensure a thorough and impartial investigation.”
The University wrote that Human Resources and General Counsel conducted a secondary investigation, which “supported the findings of the primary investigation.” An outside firm conducted the third investigation.
“As a final measure, an independent firm was employed to ensure the internal investigations were conducted appropriately and in compliance with University policy, and it found the investigations to be thorough and fair to all parties,” the University continued in its email statement.
Doe said Pepperdine HR and General Counsel interviewed her again around the end of February. She said they asked her many of the same questions. HR conducted a separate investigation on the incident and any “policy violations,” according to the Community Standards document. The Graphic did not have access to the HR investigation files.
Doe said she did not have an interview with the outside firm that she was aware of, but Emrich wrote that many interviews were conducted as part of the outside investigation. She did not specify who the outside firm reinterviewed. This outside investigation occurred after the two internal Pepperdine investigations.
For cases of sexual assault allegations not regarding DPS workers, Emrich wrote that a DPS Title IX investigator — someone who specializes in Title IX prohibited offenses such as sex and gender-based discrimination, sexual assault and stalking — will still lead the investigation process. Emrich also wrote that when a sexual assault is reported, DPS will address immediate or ongoing safety concerns for those involved and works closely with the Title IX coordinator to provide students additional support.
The hearing with the Student Disciplinary Committee took place March 20, 2019. Sharon Beard, the associate dean of Student Affairs for Community Standards, said the Office of Community Standards is officially notified of a sexual assault allegation once the DPS investigation concludes, and the DPS report is sent to her office.
The members of the Student Disciplinary Committee for cases regarding sexual assault allegations are specifically selected and required to attend an annual training conducted by Title IX Coordinator for Students La Shonda Coleman, Dean of Students Mark Davis and Beard. The committee includes a minimum of three faculty and staff members, with a mix of male and female members.
“Members who serve on Title IX cases are faculty and staff members who have either expressed interest in serving or who have been recommended to our office because of their deep care for our students and commitment to fairness in our processes,” Beard wrote in an email.
Hearings are conducted remotely via Zoom video conferencing so the accused and accuser do not have to be in the same room together as a way to ensure safety, Beard wrote.
Before this incident’s hearing, both Doe and Smith were given a copy of the DPS report, Doe said. Both were welcomed to submit a written response to accept or deny the charges and provide their perspectives. Along with a written response, they could also provide a witness list, an adviser, cross-examination questions and pertinent records, exhibits and written statements.
In her written response, Doe described her frustration with the investigation and report “creating a false narrative of my promiscuity in order to defend [Smith’s] predatory actions.”
She ended her statement by explaining that throughout the entire investigation, she felt it had strayed away from the reason she reported — consent.
“Consent is a moment-to-moment concept, and in the moments of that night, I had not given consent,” Doe wrote in her closing statement.
Doe said she spoke first during the hearing. The video conference allowed her to see whom she was speaking to, except for Smith, who called in — so he could hear Doe, but not see her. Once Doe was done, she hung up and called in, so the roles were reversed. Doe said she was pleased with how the hearing went, feeling confident in how she told her story.
At the conclusion of all hearings, the committee deliberates and reviews the information and determines if there has been a violation of the Sexual Misconduct Policy or other codes of conduct.
The decision is emailed to both parties within two days, Beard wrote, and both parties have the opportunity to appeal the decision.
Two days after the hearing, Doe received a letter saying that the Student Disciplinary Committee had ruled Smith not guilty. She did not appeal the decision.
“I was so exhausted,” Doe said. “I didn’t appeal because if they didn’t believe me the first time, they wouldn’t have the second time. That was a big reason I didn’t want to take it to the police.”
Vaznaugh, an employment attorney, said cases of sexual assault tend to be proven through circumstantial or corroborating evidence, such as other alleged victims or major contradictions in the accused’s investigation or testimony.
“It becomes, from a litigation point of view, really a credibility contest between the accuser and the accused,” Vaznaugh said.
Sexual Assault Reports on Campus
During the spring semester of 2019 — around the same time Doe’s investigation took place — there were a total of seven sexual misconduct incidents. The first report belonged to Doe and was stated as “forcible rape, including date rape and sexual battery,” according to the DPS crime log.
An online survey of 45 students in spring of 2019 revealed that only 28% of respondents knew about the seven assaults, 25% felt adequately informed about sexual assaults and 44% were aware of the process of reporting a sexual assault, the Graphic reported.
For incidents where Pepperdine deems a continuing danger to the campus community, a timely warning will be sent to students via email. In the seventh report of spring of 2019, a timely warning was sent to students regarding a non-Pepperdine student who was reported to have touched a female student in an unwanted manner.
One sexual misconduct incident was reported in the fall semester of 2019, according to the DPS crime log. There was also one case of sexual misconduct reported in the spring semester of 2020, according to the DPS crime log.
Department of Public Safety
In Doe’s case, the report was unusual because both the accused and the accuser worked for DPS at the time. When it comes to work culture between men and women in the Department of Public Safety, Emrich wrote that equality and respect are emphasized, and such offenses to these principles are not taken lightly.
“Our expectations for the work culture of DPS originate from and are based upon a foundation of dignity, respect, and professionalism,” Emrich wrote in an email. “These expectations are for all, regardless of gender, position or role in our department. In situations where any individual fails to meet these expectations, it is considered serious and the matter is addressed.”
As of April 2, Emrich estimated that approximately 25% of DPS employees are women. She wrote that over the years, that percentage has been higher, and the university does not hire or promote based solely on one’s gender.
When it comes to the department’s education about sexual assault, Emrich wrote, “All DPS personnel receive training on University emergency protocols and general policies, including those pertaining to sexual misconduct and assault.”
After the decision, Smith went back to work for DPS. He no longer works there. Doe was not fired but said she felt like she could not go back to work with him and her co-workers; following the decision, she immediately put in her two-weeks’ notice.
The University expressed its certainty in its decision in an email statement to the Graphic.
The same time Doe received the hearing’s results, she said she also got an email from the Student Care Team, saying that if Doe needed anything, to reach out. They also provided her with information on the Counseling Center. Doe said she started going to the Counseling Center, but a combination of bouncing around from different counselors and the semester ending made her time there short lived.
In spring 2019, Doe said her academics, social life and mental health were at an all-time low. She had trouble connecting with others and couldn’t convince herself to attend class in fear she would see Smith.
In spring 2020, however, more than a year after the incident, Doe shared that her academics are at an all-time high; her mental health has improved, although she still feels bursts of anxiety, she said, and certain occurrences trigger panic attacks.
Rain, Alumni Park and DPS fire trucks are a few of the triggers she mentioned.
“I had class in the CCB every morning this semester,” Doe said. “I tried to avoid looking at the [fire] truck, but I would see it out of the corner of my eye.”
As of the summer of 2019, student officers can no longer work for DPS. Director of Public Safety Dawn Emrich did not indicate that the decision arose from the Jan. 15 incident; rather, it was part of a larger administrative change in the department, Emrich wrote in an email.
In spring of 2020, a year after the reported incident, Doe created a film that was accepted into Pepperdine’s ReelStories. The short film was based on Doe’s own experience and premiered Jan. 31. Smith was not named in the film.
During the investigation, Doe never signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), also known as a confidentiality agreement, which would have prevented her from discussing the details of her case, Vaznaugh explained. Therefore, Doe was able to make her film without facing legal repercussions or fines.
“I had to take a couple of breaks when we were shooting,” Doe said. “When my film [was shown], I was not breathing. For the rest of the night, I could not stop smiling and talking about it. Even though I didn’t win any awards, I did win — I won because people told me it made an impact on their heart.”
In addition to being able to report internally to their employer, victims of sexual harassment can report to outside agencies in charge of investigating harassment, Vaznaugh said. One can reach out to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing to file a complaint.
Victims of sexual assault can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to get connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provide in one’s area.
Contact Channa Steinmetz via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter: @ChannaSteinmetz