A violation of civil rights and damages lawsuit against Mt. San Antonio College, Mt. SAC President Bill Scroggins, four Mt. SAC employees, and former student and Mt. SAC tutor Chester Brown is moving forward with depositions currently underway. Aarefah Mosavi, a 23-year-old former Mt. SAC student and current peace and conflicts major at UC Berkeley, alleges she was raped on the Mt. SAC campus by former student Chester Brown and that administration tried to cover it up.
An attorney on Mosavi's legal team, Monica Smith, said that during the discovery phase they are currently conducting depositions and obtaining oral testimonies from those involved with the handling of the investigation of Mosavi's case. The case is set to go to trial by jury in early 2018.
In early June 2016, U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald ruled in favor of plaintiff Mosavi in an ongoing case of allegations made against Mt. San Antonio College, a governmental entity, duly organized and existing under the laws of the State of California. Chester Brown, is being sued in his individual capacity and who at the time of the allegations was employed by Mt. SAC as a math tutor, and members of the administration who are each being sued in his or her individual and official capacities. These individuals are: Mt. SAC President Bill Scroggins, former Director of Equal Employment Opportunity Programs Lorraine Jones who is currently employed at Riverside Community College District as a district compliance officer, former Vice President of Human Resources and former Interim Director of Equal Employment Opportunity Program James Czaja, supervisor of Tutorial Services, John Cardenas, and former director of Tutorial Services Bailey Smith who is currently the director of student equity at Compton College, who are all named as defendants in the case.
The defendants tried to have the case dropped on Feb. 12, 2016, but the judge ruled against the motion to drop the case.
Mosavi attended the Federal Court hearing, accompanied by attorneys Shanta Driver and Monica Smith, two organizers with an organization known as BAMN, The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary; and a handful of supporters.
Attorney Allison Chung attended the hearing in representation of the accused Mt. SAC administrators — none of whom were present during the hearing. Neither Chester Brown, nor an attorney representing him, attended the hearing.
During the hearing, Chung challenged the tentative ruling, and asked the court to "respectfully reconsider" a tentative ruling out of equitable toll for the accused Mt. SAC administration.
Meanwhile, Driver, agreed to submit to the tentative ruling, and then addressed the question of equitable tolling in defense of Mosavi.
"The injustice that this would do to Miss Mosavi of having those accounts dismissed, under these circumstances is far greater than any prejudice or any hardship that the defendants might suffer," Driver said.
The Honorable Judge Fitzgerald took into consideration the request by Chung to rule out the possibility of equitable toll for the Mt. SAC defendants, and said that without an official ruling, Chung must see it is at least "in the realm of possibility" that the accused members of the administration could be held financially responsible for punitive damages.
Outside of the courtroom, supporters gathered around Mosavi and Driver, who shared an interpretation of what happened regarding the case. According to Driver, "every single one of the claims that [Mosavi] made against each of the administrators and against Chester Brown goes forward from this point."
For many of Mosavi's supporters, Mosavi is a role model, who represents the strength and resolve of Muslim women to fight for their rights — an image contrary to media stereotypes as "passive" or "submissive."
"I'm very proud of Aarefah. She's a role model, not only for all women, especially Muslim women, who have experienced rape, or any type of sexual assault, or abuse. Today she stands for many, many girls, and hopefully they will find the courage too to stand up against anyone who has abused them," said an older friend, whom Mosavi respectfully calls auntie.
According to Smith, the continuation of the Mosavi trial is "a victory for the movement against sexual violence."
The lawsuit was filed on June 3, 2015 and alleges that Mosavi was raped by Brown on the night of Dec. 12, 2013 on the Mt. SAC campus. The lawsuit states "When Ms. Mosavi went to the school's Human Resources and the administration for help and guidance in filing a complaint against Brown, they humiliated her and treated her with total contempt, making an already traumatic experience worse."
Mosavi first made allegations against Brown in a YouTube video released on April 19, 2015, in which she publicly accused Brown of sexual assault. Mosavi further alleged that upon reporting the incident to Mt. SAC administrators that they failed to adequately investigate her claims.
In the video, Mosavi said, "The admin repeatedly asked me throughout the investigation when I was transferring in hopes that this issues would disappear from the campus. They have been mistaken. I'm taking legal action against the Mt. San Antonio College administration as well as Chester Brown."
Mosavi transferred to Berkeley in fall of 2014.
In the video, she also said, "This was an individual I considered a friend, but he raped me."
Mosavi was a student at Mt. SAC in the years 2011 and 2012. In the fall of 2012, Mosavi started working for Mt. SAC as a tutor at their Language Assistance Center LAC as a tutor in English, philosophy, and French. In the fall of 2013, Mosavi's supervisor John Cardenas asked if she would work behind the counter for the Transfer Math Activities Resource Center TMARC. This is where she met Brown and they became work friends.
Mosavi claims that both she and Brown went to the campus farm to see animals, and it was there that Brown sexually assaulted her.
"As we were getting ready to leave the farm, Brown suddenly turned to me and repeatedly asked me to take off my hijab, to which I consistently refused and expressed that he was making me uncomfortable," Mosavi said.
According to Mosavi, Brown was fixated on her hijab, a headscarf worn as part of her Muslim culture.
"When we first started working together, he had made comments like 'I can see your neck, and I'm going to look at it.' He even called me a fake Muslim because my flesh was visible."
She said that Brown became aggressive at the farm.
"No one was around and it was very dark. I was terrified as Brown continued to sexually assault me. He forced his hands under my shirt, groping my bare stomach, then forcing his hands under my bra and groped my breasts. He then continued to grope my stomach, sides and lower back. While he was doing this, he was also grinding his body against me in a rough manner," she said.
Mosavi said that Brown pinned her against a wall and raped her.
Mosavi reported the incident on Jan. 28, 2014 to her supervisor, John Cardenas. According to the lawsuit, attorney Ronald Cruz on Mosavi's behalf said that Mosavi told Cardenas that, "Brown had made disparaging comments about [her] and made her uncomfortable," and briefly mentioned the rape, but expressed her desire to discuss the details of the rape with a female.
She then reported the incident on Feb. 11, 2014 to Director of Equal Opportunity Lorraine Jones, and explained the allegations of sexual assault against Brown. According to Mosavi, Jones said that punitive actions would be taken against Brown and said they would investigate.
Two months passed since Mosavi saw Jones again. On April 4, 2014, Mosavi said that Jones asked her to "physically simulate the rape" for Cynthia Hoover, the person taking notes during the meeting. In that meeting, Mosavi said that Jones instructed her to play the role of Brown.
Scroggins said he is "not part of the investigative process that happens at the college."
In April 2014, Mosavi said Jones informed her that the case would be turned over to Mt. SAC Public Safety. Mt. SAC former Public Safety Officer Joe Carl informed Mosavi that he would inform Jones that Brown had allegedly raped Mosavi manually.
Mosavi finally met with Scroggins on the morning of June 6, 2014 to ask that he, "do more to keep students and faculty safe, such as invest in security cameras." Mosavi said that Scroggins declined her request for security cameras and explained to her that no school had security cameras.
"I was appalled when he declared that my concerns [did] not serve the interests of the Mt. SAC community, and that my experience was a 'rare exception' since Mt. SAC is a relatively safe campus, "Mosavi said.
When interviewed in May 2015 about his meeting with Mosavi and whether or not he said that no other college used cameras, Scroggins said he does not remember the conversation to that level of detail.
Scroggins at the time of the interview was also unable to recall any other specific details of his meeting with Mosavi, however he reinforced that he does not control the investigative process. "Our discussion was subsequent to the conclusion of the investigation," Scroggins said.
Mosavi's attorneys claim that the administration knowingly conducted invalid interviews by interviewing persons who admitted to having favorable biases for Brown and claimed them as valid witness accounts in their administrative review. The lawsuit claims that Jones and Carl agreed to interview Mosavi's witnesses, but they never did. It also claims that Scroggins promised to extend the investigation so that Mosavi's witnesses could be interviewed and that the administration failed to keep this promise and determined Brown's innocence through discriminatory and negligent college procedures.
According to interviews with public safety and Mosavi, the allegations of sexual assault were filed through Mt. SAC with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. A police report was filed on May 8, 2014.
"For six months I went through the administration's procedures in hopes they would punish Brown for raping me," she said.
Mosavi claims that Mt. SAC attempted to cover up the alleged assault.
It was discovered by the student media staff reporting the story, that while Mosavi made a report to public safety, they did not log it in the college report, which is a violation of the Clery Act. The federal Clery Act requires colleges and universities, both public and private, participating in federal student aid programs to disclose campus safety information, and imposes certain basic requirements for handling incidents of sexual violence and emergency situations. Disclosures about crime statistics and summaries of security policies are made once a year in an Annual Security Report, and information about specific crimes and emergencies is made publicly available on an ongoing basis throughout the year
Chief of Public Safety David Wilson acknowledged that no report was filed when Mosavi came forward and the investigation into the alleged assault began.
Wilson said: "The people that were here at the time erroneously did not include it so it's not in the current public safety crime report, it's not correctly captured. We realized that last week when all this was coming to a head that previous people who were in charge here — for whatever reason and I don't know why — didn't mark. There should be a one where it says December of 2013 because that's when, that's not when we became aware of it, that's when it was reported to have occurred."
It is unclear what happened between the months of April and June when Mosavi met with Scroggins. There was no record of an ongoing investigation.
According to interviews with public safety and Mosavi, the allegations of sexual assault had already been filed through Mt. SAC and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. SAC.Media confirmed that a police report was filed on May 8, 2014.
However, Scroggins' account of events did not match what Mosavi said in an interview with SAC.Media. Scroggins said, "There was an investigation that began in February 2014, and I was aware of the investigation. When the investigative report was shared with the complainant she had some concerns."
Mosavi made the decision to file a lawsuit on June 3, 2015. The lawsuit also claims that the college failed to notify Mosavi that they would allow Brown to continue to work and attend classes at the college during the investigation. According to the lawsuit, "Mosavi realized herself after physically encountering Brown several times."
Brown worked in the same building where Mosavi attended classes. The lawsuit alleges that these encounters caused Mosavi fear and anxiety. The lawsuit claims that Mosavi also reported to human resources the harassment she suffered from Brown based on her religious right to wear a headscarf and alleges the Mt. SAC Administration failed to punish Brown on his continued harassment of Mosavi. The lawsuit claims that Scroggins promised to extend the investigation so that Mosavi's witnesses could be interviewed and that the administration failed to keep this promise and determined Brown's innocence through discriminatory and negligent college procedures, and that Jones and Carl agreed to interview Mosavi's witnesses, but never did.
Smith said in a BAMN statement released in 2015, that Brown's continued employment at the school "sends a message to the campus that rape and sexual assault is ok," and the lawsuit will help the "fight against rape and sexual assault."
Mt. SAC released the following statement in 2015:
"Mt. San Antonio College takes all allegations of sexual assault very seriously, and is committed to maintaining a safe learning and working environment. The College is also committed to maintaining the privacy rights of our students and employees, which limits the amount of information we can share with the general public."
Smith said truth of the coverup will eventually come out.
"The truth about Chester Brown's rape of Aarefah and the administration cover up of rape and sexual assault will come out," Smith said in the statement.
Mosavi is also suing for civil rights/religious freedom because Mosavi claims she also reported to human resources the harassment she suffered from Chester Brown based on her religious right to wear a head scarf. The lawsuit claims that administration failed to punish Brown on his continued harassment of Mosavi.
Bob Wren, a 28-year veteran of the Orange County Sheriff's Department and current Deputy Chief of Mt. SAC Public Safety, said that changes have been made to make sure that Mt. SAC complies with the Clery Act. He said the crime log will be on the school website for easier viewing, and that it will be updated as required. "My priority is to prevent these types of things from happening, but we can't control everything," Wren said.
Wren said that public safety does not cover up these types of incidents but declined to comment on the Mosavi case. Scroggins said that the college did everything possible to investigate the Mosavi case, and added that it is important to protect the students on campus.
"The college is always interested in getting the right message out to people about our protection of students, " he said.
BAMN made the following statement
According the the lawsuit, Mosavi has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD: "Ms. Mosavi has suffered psychological and stress-related physical illnesses as a result of her traumatic assault and rape."
Mosavi's legal team said the case will push forward and is set to go to trial with jury in early 2018.
"The case is going forward. [The opposing side] tried to dismiss the case, but the judge denied it," Smith said. "Coming January 2018, we expect to win, and they will lose."
Chester Brown was unable to be reached for comment.
This is an ongoing story. Check back for updates.