Thompson to return to work after college ends investigation

Brandon McCapes, Co-Editor-in-Chief

President of the Academic Senate Eric Thompson returned to work Friday following the conclusion of Santa Rosa Junior College’s investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct.

The college hired an independent investigator to look into the charges former Ursuline High School and SRJC student Sarah Chavez, 39, made on Facebook in November. She accused Thompson of abusing his position at Ursuline High School and committing statutory rape over a two-year period in the mid-1990s.

“The ‘investigation’ is officially closed,” Thompson said in an email to SRJC faculty members. “I will be back too [in] the spring semester.”

He denied the allegations and told The Press Democrat the sexual relationship began when Chavez was 18 and no longer his student.

According to Chavez, the college was restricted in its ability to investigate.

“They did not investigate the sexual assaults,” Chavez said. “They are solely concerned with Thompson’s behavior over the last four years.”

Chavez, who claims Thompson pressured her to drop-out of high school, said the #metoo movement inspired her to speak out publicly.

“Eric Thompson is a sexual predator. They claim that his abuse of children is ‘outside the District’s purview to address.’ I feel that you have a child rapist who is the President of the Academic Senate,” Chavez said in an interview with The Oak Leaf Friday.

Thompson has worked at the college since 1992 and was an adjunct faculty member when the sexual misconduct allegedly occurred. He became a full-time faculty member in 2001, and his term as president of the Academic Senate, which began in 2016, ends in 2019.

President Frank Chong told The Press Democrat that the investigation—the college’s second into Chavez’s claims in five years—-took no action because of the age of the claims.

“There’s a four-year statute of limitations,” Chong said.

In a faculty email sent on Dec. 7, one day after The Oak Leaf published a story about the allegations and investigation, Chong said the college had hired a law firm to conduct the investigation and asked Thompson to go on voluntary leave until it concluded.

Thompson has not responded to The Oak Leaf’s requests for an interview about the end of the investigation.

Chavez claimed Thompson sexually assaulted her when she was 16 and he was her drama instructor at Ursuline High School. Chavez’s father, Mike Chavez, 71, said he and his wife told Thompson to end his relationship with their daughter while she was underage, but it continued in secret.

Chavez and her parents said they eventually went to Ursuline High School principal Sr Dianne Baumunk when Chavez was 19 to insist Thompson be fired and to demand a refund on tuition.

“She agreed that he needed to be fired, and she gave me a check,” Mike Chavez said.

Baumunk questioned the need to dig up “ancient history” and declined to comment further.

Faith Harrison, a friend of Chavez’s when she attended SRJC in the late ‘90s, said Chavez told her what had happened but wasn’t negative about Thompson at that time.

“She didn’t say he was this horrible person that did this thing to her; she just told me the facts,” Harrison said. “Even though she defended it at the beginning, I don’t think that should have any bearing on it. She was convinced that this was normal by him and bought into it for a long time. I think through therapy she realized that it wasn’t normal.”

Chavez went to therapy where she said she worked through the emotional turmoil caused by the relationship. She now lives in Maine with her husband and twin daughters.

In an early December email, Thompson said, “Anyone who knows me well knows that the accusations are foreign to all of my behavior. I have never sexually assaulted, molested, preyed upon, or harassed anyone in my life. Not once.”

Thompson said, “I have been accused of something that happened more than 20 years ago. The college, primarily because of the alarming language that the accuser has used and the public nature of the story, asked me to go on paid leave until an investigation is conducted. I agreed, as is appropriate, to say nothing about this case until after the investigation is complete.”