The same day that Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Thomas Kuhnle granted Peterson Middle School Principal Susan Harris a permanent restraining order against Santa Clara Unified School District Trustee Christopher Stampolis, SCUSD Superintendent Stanley Rose filed a second harassment complaint against Stampolis and asked for a restraining order.
Rose testified in Harris’ Oct. 16 hearing that Stampolis had threatened him as well. While his public testimony was brief, Rose’s written statement supporting Harris’ claim described threats to both Rose and his wife, including Stampolis’ wish “to inflict as much pain as possible.”
Multiple witnesses attested to Harris’ account of Stampolis’ behavior, including Sunnyvale Public Safety Officer Todd Fekete, SCUSD security employee Brian Allen and Peterson Vice Principal Andrew Maser. Other written statements in the record attest to others’ experiences of similar threatening behavior from Stampolis over several years.
On Sept. 24, Harris requested a restraining order against Stampolis, alleging that he had harassed and threatened her on several occasions since the beginning of the school year when she tried to speak with him about his tardiness picking up his son after school â€“ sometimes as much as an hour and a half after school was dismissed â€“ and violating school rules for campus visitors.
Stampolis refused to discuss it, telling her, “put it in writing.” On Aug. 27 a school security camera recorded him making fists, pointing, and lifting his arms to chin level and making a gun-like gesture with his hands. Harris showed the video to Fekete the following day. The officer tried to speak with Stampolis, who replied he didn’t want to talk to him. Fekete told Stampolis he would be cited for trespassing if he came on the campus further than the office.
Stampolis then filed a harassment complaint against Harris â€“ also accusing her of racism against Asians. The district’s investigator found the charges groundless, according to evidence presented by Harris’ attorney Eugene Whitlock. In September, Harris filed a Hostile Workplace complaint about Stampolis.
Stampolis also brought his son to SDPS to file an unlawful imprisonment complaint against Harris, after a Sept. 23 confrontation where Stampolis was given a 14-day “stay away” order. The SDPS said the complaint was “without merit” and refused to file charges, Fekete testified.
In his testimony, Stampolis countered that he had never harassed Harris, was not “angry or agitated” and “absolutely did not” stick his hands in her face. “If one looks at the [security video] it’s pretty clear that I was making a gesture to put it in writing. No reasonable person could reasonably believe I was pointing a gun.” He also said he “disagreed with the authority of Officer Fekete to tell any parent not to go on a campus.”
Stampolis also seemed to imply that he wasn’t late in picking up his son because Peterson rules allowed students to be on campus to participate in after-school activities, and “studying in the library was an after-school activity.” Stampolis claimed that last year the librarian had said his son “was welcome to stay.”
With regard to campus visitor rules, Stampolis asserted that “a lot of parents came on campus without signing in.” When Harris’ attorney asked if he’d read the investigator’s report, which said that most parents did, in fact, sign in, Stampolis responded by asking Whitlock to read it to him. When the judge instructed Stampolis to “answer the question directly,” he replied, “I don’t know.”
Stampolis’ attorney, Tomas Margair, suggested that “motives other than fear” were behind Harris’ complaint. He asked Stampolis if he thought this would have any impact on the upcoming election. “These are the ways politics are handled in Santa Clara,” replied Stampolis. Margair then introduced anti-Stampolis ads from 2012. Whitlock, in his closing argument, pointed out that Harris was not involved in any way in the 2012 campaigns.
During Stampolis’ testimony, it sometimes seemed that he and his attorney were at odds. Margair repeatedly had to bring Stampolis back to the question that had been asked, and at one point said, “Mr. Stampolis, you have to work with me,” after Stampolis elaborated far beyond the point.
After more than eight hours of testimony over two days, Kuhnle delivered a succinct judgment, finding “clear and convincing evidence” that Stampolis threatened Harris on Aug. 27 and 28 in a way “that would cause a reasonable person fear.” Further, Stampolis’ behavior “seriously annoyed and harassed” Harris, and would “cause a reasonable person significant emotional stress.”
The judge also found at least two aspects of Stampolis’ testimony questionable. “He indicated [in his testimony] that he directed no hand gestures to Ms. Harris.” The security video showed “that’s not correct.”
Second, Kuhnle said that although the “gun gesture” photo seen in the context of the entire video showed Stampolis backing away â€“ presumably from Harris â€“ “it’s not important whether or not he’s making a gun.”
The stills taken from the security video of the incidents on Aug. 27 “show the location and shape of his hands, fists â€¦ and his hand outstretched” in a way “that could look like” a gun, and Stampolis testimony that “no reasonable person could reasonably think it was a gun” was implausible.
In the hearing’s one “Perry Mason” moment, Whitlock noted that the video shows Stampolis holding out his right hand, and the left hand in front â€“ making what he claimed was the “writing” gesture. When Whitlock asked him which hand he wrote with, Stampolis testified that he was right-handed. (On Oct.1, Stampolis told reporter NBC Bay Area reporter Jean Elle that the gesture was “actually an open hand with keys.”)
“I am relieved,” said Harris. “I’ve got some protection. I wish it was longer, but I will revisit this in the future. At least I know it can be enforced. I’m hopeful that this will start a shift in the district back to the students and the wonderful staff that are still here.”
Stampolis did not answer a request for comment. However, he told Mercury News reporter Sharon Noguchi, “This doesn’t change anything.”
Kuhnle’s order is effective for a year, and Harris can request a continuation. Stampolis must stay 50 yards from Harris, except for one place on the campus where he can pick up his son. The order allows Stampolis to attend publicly noticed school board meetings where Harris is present. However, Stampolis won’t be allowed to attend Peterson school events. Failing to comply carries possible penalties of a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.