Former SRJC trustee Jordan Burns accused of child sex abuse

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Abraham Fuentes

Jordan Burns, pictured here at a May 8, 2018 Santa Rosa Junior College Board of Trustees meeting, resigned from the board on Aug. 6, three weeks after former SRJC student Adrian Cardenas sent an email to President Dr. Frank Chong alleging that Burns sexually assaulted him in 2014 and 2015.

James Domizio, Managing Editor

Content warning: this story contains discussion of child sexual abuse allegations.

Santa Rosa Junior College President Dr. Frank Chong responded in an email Saturday to allegations that a Board of Trustees member who resigned in August sexually abused a former SRJC student in 2014 and 2015. 

According to the Press Democrat, Adrian Cardenas, 19, sent an email to SRJC President Dr. Frank Chong on July 14 claiming Jordan Burns, 37, molested him between the ages of 12 and 13. Cardenas attended SRJC in 2018 during his senior year of high school, the same calendar year Burns was re-elected to the Board of Trustees.

Dr. Chong sent an email to all SRJC staff on Saturday that detailed the college’s action taken in response to Cardenas’ allegations and said the college’s legal counsel advised that there is no connection between the allegations and SRJC or Burns’ role as a trustee.

On July 17, the board formed a three-member ad hoc committee to investigate Burns. According to SRJC attorney Robert Henry, committee members didn’t take notes or minutes at their meetings, which the Brown Act allows.

The committee’s investigation ended Aug. 6 when Burns resigned. Neither the college or the Board of Trustees officially announced Burns’ resignation, and board members voted for Dr. Michael Valdovinos to fill Burns’ seat on Sept. 30

In his resignation letter, Burns said he was leaving the board due to a move that would leave him ineligible to serve. Throughout the pandemic, he wrote, his wife took on a new career, and he found that remote work suited him best. He did not mention the allegations; they didn’t become public until the Press Democrat’s Oct. 30 article.

Burns, who served as board president in the year before he resigned, has denied all allegations of inappropriate contact with Cardenas in court filings and told the Press Democrat that the allegations are “absolutely false and without a shred of truth.”

Cardenas alleges that Burns sexually assaulted him on multiple occasions when he volunteered for Burns’ nonprofit educational organization, Children’s Humanitarian International, in middle school. Burns was running to become SRJC’s West County trustee at the time.

Until Cardenas told his counselor about the abuse in 2019 and his parents in 2020, he kept it a secret because he blamed himself for what happened, he said to the Press Democrat.

Burns said he and Cardenas’ mother were romantically involved and their breakup is a factor in what he claims are false allegations, but she denied ever being in a romantic relationship with Burns in an email to the Press Democrat.

Cardenas made a report to Sebastopol Police on Jan. 4, 2020, and the case was taken on by Officer Vanessa Murphy, who worked with Cardenas to create “pretext” messages to Burns, texts often used in sex abuse investigations that are crafted to elicit confessions from perpetrators.

Burns remembers receiving and ignoring the messages. After Murphy left the department, Officer Ethan Stockton took on the case and made plans with Cardenas to script a pretext phone call. However, Cardenas never heard back from Stockton, even after sending a follow-up email on April 22, 2020.

Sebastopol Police Chief Kevin Kilgore, in the role since May 2021, told the Press Democrat, “[Officers] investigated everything that was provided to them and took it as far as they could take it to complete the investigation to determine whether a criminal act had occurred.”

Even after Dr. Chong forwarded Cardenas’ email on July 14, officers did not discover sufficient evidence to support recommending criminal charges.

According to conversations with the Press Democrat, Cardenas and his parents felt let down by the police and said their investigation was insufficient, so they filed a lawsuit against Burns in the Sonoma County Superior Court in May 2020. The suit is still active and seeks damages for assault, sexual assault and emotional distress.

Cardenas has made several changes in legal counsel. He first represented himself, but then enlisted the services of Santa Rosa-based attorney Richard Sax, who left during discussions over settlement terms.

Petaluma-based attorney Charles Applegate took over before requesting to be removed from the case after Cardenas emailed a private proposed settlement agreement to Dr. Chong on July 14.

Cardenas missed the first court date after Applegate resigned and has since retained the services of Brian Gearinger and Patrick Ciocca. The next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 11, 2022.