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Peterson Principal Gets Her Day in Court: “I Was Afraid For My Safety”

Peterson Principal Gets Her Day in Court:

Peterson Middle School Principal Susan Harris testified repeatedly in court on Tuesday about her fear of Santa Clara Unified Trustee Christopher Stampolis, I did not want to become another statistic of school violence.

Harris received a temporary restraining order against Stampolis from the Santa Clara Superior Court on Sept. 24, and is seeking to make it permanent. After four hours of testimony on Tuesday, Judge Thomas Kuhnle continued the hearing to Thursday afternoon, when more testimony will be heard about Stampolis’ belligerence from other district officials and employees – including Superintendent Stanley Rose.

Tuesday, Harris gave a detailed and compelling account of Stampolis’ threatening conduct when she spoke to him about his repeated tardiness picking up his son and refusing to follow school rules about visitors, and going directly to the library to find his son. Many of Stampolis’ actions were captured by the school’s security video system, and stills from the video were part of Harris’ complaint.

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Harris described Stampolis’ dismissive remarks when she tried to speak with him regarding her concerns for the child’s safety. I don’t want to talk to you, he told her repeatedly, Put it in writing.

His increasingly angry insistence that he wasn’t going to talk with her was accompanied by what she described as ‘getting in her face,’ and violent hand gestures. On Aug. 27, He put his hands up like a gun [saying] I told you I’m not going to talk to you, Harris said. He was yelling. He was angry and yelling at me.

He was pointing his fingers at my face, she continued. He would walk away and come back at me, and he’s yelling he’s going to file a claim of harassment against me. I was afraid he was going to hit me. At one point, she said, she could feel his breath in her face.

Stampolis did file a complaint. However, the report from the SCUSD’s investigator, Thomas Newcomb, cleared Harris of all allegations of harassment and concluded that Harris had an objective reason to be afraid, she said.

This started the first day of school, when Stampolis was an hour and 20 minutes late, and his son was the last child on campus to be picked up. Numerous school disruption reports were filed in the following weeks as this continued.

Within a month, Harris had: filed a Hostile Workplace/Harassment complaint against the district, obtained a 14-day stay away order against Stampolis, had a security guard with her during school drop-off and pick-up times, and was suffering from anxiety and panic attacks – which she hadn’t had before – so severe that at one point she was in the emergency room.

Sunnyvale Public Safety Officer Todd Fekete testified that Harris called him on Aug. 28, asking him to come to the school and evaluate the situation. Fekete watched the video. On it, he said, I observed Mr. Stampolis walk on to the quad, bypassing the office. I saw Mrs. Harris try to get his attention [and then] turn toward her and then pointing his fingers and making gestures. He appeared upset. He was very aggressive and it looked like he was yelling. It did offer Mrs. Harris a legitimate basis to fear for her safety. Fekete later suggested that Harris get a restraining order.

Stampolis’ behavior later that afternoon confirmed the officer’s assessment of what he had seen on the video, and that Stampolis didn’t respect Fekete’s authority as a police officer.

On Sept. 23, when district employee Brian Allen – a retired police officer who provides investigation and security services for SCUSD on an as-needed basis – presented Stampolis with a school stay away order, Stampolis threatened to record Allen on his phone. Fekete intervened, and Stampolis drove to the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety where he directed his son to make a false imprisonment report. Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety found that the claim had no merit, Fekete said, and the department didn’t file any charges.

I felt that this was another example of harassment by Mr. Stampolis, Harris said I really feel bad for [Stampolis’ son] because his father is making him say and do things that are not true.

Harris’ fear of Stampolis didn’t just start in August. Last year, Stampolis sent emails to Peterson teachers and administrators they described as harassing. Last month Peterson staff presented the SCUSD board with a petition protesting an unsafe workplace created by Stampolis.

To support the case that Harris was in real danger, her attorney, Eugene Whitlock, noted the 2006 Los Angeles case – made notorious by a 9-1-1 call published on gossip site TMZ – where Stampolis was arrested on an assault charge, and the victim was awarded $35,000 in compensatory damages by a mediator, who wrote in his decision that Stampolis’ actions were inappropriate, intentional and actionable regardless of what version you accept Ö His actions were aggressive, assaultive and threatening no matter what his actual intention was.

Whitlock also introduced written statements about recent accusations against Stampolis:

In 2013 a high school senior, Sami Elamad, accused Stampolis of stalking him after Elamad organized a petition calling for a recall of four school board members, including Stampolis.

A Bracher Elementary parent group member says Stampolis threatened her with a lawsuit in a physically intimidating way when she disputed his proposed changes to the organization’s operation.

Cabrillo Principal Stan Barber was put under suspicion of having a hidden bank account to siphon money from the Cabrillo Carnival after a parent sent a letter to the school board to that effect. He later admitted that letter was written by Stampolis.

The real surprise will be Thursday’s testimony by Superintendent Stanley Rose, who has provided a statement saying that Stampolis threatened to inflict pain on Rose and his wife.

Stampolis’ attorney, Tomas Margair, attempted to trivialize the charges, noting all the dates that Harris didn’t call the police; pointing out that she had not felt threatened enough not to attend Back-to-School night or the annual ice cream social where Stampolis was present; that Stampolis’ gun gesture was a pantomime to put it in writing, the motion people use in restaurants to ask for their check; and suggesting that Harris’ nervous symptoms were caused by her job, not her interactions with Stampolis.

However, Superior Court Judge prefaced Tuesday’s proceedings by explaining that the level of evidence needed for a permanent restraining order included willful conduct that would legitimately cause a person stress. Such incidents don’t have to be repeated a certain number of times to rise to the level of harassment.

The hearing continues on Thu., Oct 16 at 1:30 p.m. in the County Superior Court, Dept. 4.

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