Brian Calhoun says he is guilty of battery of student, at peace with his actions

The Fresno BeeMarch 31, 2014 

After more than a year of denial, former Fresno City College instructor Brian Calhoun said Monday that a jury was justified in finding him guilty of misdemeanor battery on a female student last year.

"Was I wrong? Yes, I touched her when she didn't want to be touched," Calhoun said in a telephone interview.

"Did I know it was misdemeanor battery? No," he said.

Calhoun, 70, agreed to an interview after sending a four-page letter to outgoing State Center Community College District Chancellor Deborah Blue, City College President Tony Cantu and the district board, telling them they made a mistake in firing him. They have yet to respond, he said.

The letter is dated March 22, 2014 -- the one-year anniversary of Calhoun's confrontation with Kevynn Gomez inside the Old Administration Building that led to Calhoun's firing.

The letter was sent as Blue is being shown the door, ousted this month by the board, and after Gomez reached a confidential settlement with Calhoun and the college district after she sued them.

"I didn't write it to say, 'Na, na, na, na, na' " to Blue, Calhoun said. "I wanted her and Cantu and the board to know that my dismissal was, I believe, not in the best interests of the students at Fresno City College."

Calhoun was tried and convicted in October. Gomez, 20, and other students testified in Fresno County Superior Court that she cursed Calhoun after he yelled at another instructor who was late in dismissing his class. Calhoun told the instructor that his students had to leave the classroom because it was Calhoun's turn to use it.

After being cursed, the 5-foot-9, 157-pound Calhoun grabbed the 5-2, 102-pound Gomez's arm, pinned her against the wall with his forearm and then body-slammed her, witnesses said.

In the trial, Calhoun admitted that he "held" one of Gomez's arms, but denied pinning her against the wall or body-slamming her. He said his goal was to get her name and report her to the dean.

After his conviction, Calhoun left the courtroom in a hurry. His attorney said Calhoun was disappointed "because he honestly believes he did not commit a crime."

Monday, Calhoun wouldn't bring himself to say he was sorry. "She initiated it," he said. "She was wrong for swearing at me. She should have been punished."

But he said he realized his actions were wrong: "Would I do it again? Never."

Calhoun has appealed the verdict.

Calhoun said the intent of his letter was to tell Blue, Cantu and the board that they erred in firing him, especially since he has devoted his life to public service, first as an Army officer during the Vietnam Conflict, then three terms as an elected county supervisor in Wisconsin, two terms as a Fresno City Council member, and as a college instructor who also coordinated Kid's Day and Christmas food programs on campus.

Since his firing, Calhoun said he's found peace, knowing that his wife, Elaine, and family support him.

He also wanted Blue to know that he loved City College and his colleagues. At City College, Calhoun taught education classes. He had worked there since 1988.

"I had a wonderful career," he said. "But it makes me sad that I didn't get to retire from there."

Calhoun said Blue, Cantu and the board could have reprimanded him or suspended him with or without pay. "Instead, they wanted to make an example of me."

Calhoun described his firing as "a railroad job." He said he received no support from the teachers union. He also said he's "been around the block" enough times to know that he was fired so Blue, Cantu and the board would avoid being sued by Gomez. "I have no evidence to support what I am saying, but I understand the politics behind it," he said.

Gomez's attorney, Catherine Campbell, said Monday she could not comment on the settlement. But she said Calhoun's letter appears to be "a self-justifying résumé and plea to get his job back." Calhoun likely sent it to Blue, Campbell said, because he sees her as a sympathetic figure who was wrongfully terminated.

Campbell said the letter is troublesome because Calhoun never admits that he seriously hurt Gomez -- both physically and mentally. "He slammed her into the wall and pinned her there. She had bruises under her neck from his forearm," she said.

After a long career, Calhoun wrote the letter "to color the community's perception of him," Campbell said.

It's also sad that Calhoun lost so much, Campbell said. "His punishment has been severe," she said.

In his letter, Calhoun tells Blue that he has been thoroughly punished: Attorney Roger Nuttall charged him $65,000 "with both SCCCD and my insurance company declining to pay for any of my attorney's expenses."

Judge Denise Whitehead fined him $240, put him on three years of probation and ordered him to spend 90 days in the Adult Offender Work Program. That cost him $900 in $10 per day supervision fees.

Calhoun says he completed his 90 days by cleaning dog cages at the Fresno County animal control shelter. He writes that the experience motivated him to adopt two dogs from the shelter.

He says he completed 12 anger management counseling sessions imposed by the court that cost $280.

Calhoun said Whitehead's most "egregious and unfair" ruling -- that Calhoun believes was initiated by Blue -- was being permanently barred from all SCCCD campuses. "For Chrissakes, it was a misdemeanor, not a felony. The judge treated me like I was a murderer or a rapist who's a threat to the community. It's ridiculous."

Still, Calhoun said he has obeyed the order.

Calhoun said he doesn't know whether his letter or newspaper interview will hurt his appeal; he said he did not consult Nuttall for permission. But he said his appeal is based on judicial error regarding jury instructions.

In his trial, Calhoun said he believed he was fighting one misdemeanor charge -- that he had used his forearm to pin Gomez against wall. He said Nuttall did a good job of proving that it didn't happen.

But Whitehead ruled that the evidence showed Calhoun may have committed four charges of battery: the initial grabbing of Gomez's arm; pinning her against the wall; holding her against her will; and body-slamming her. Before deliberations, Whitehead instructed the jury it only needed to vote unanimously on one of the four battery allegations to reach a verdict.

"Our appeal is not based on whether I was guilty or not," Calhoun said Monday. "The judge made it impossible for me to get a fair trial."

If there is a bright side, Calhoun said, he's glad that he was 69 years old when he was fired. "If I was 45, I would have had a hard time getting a job with a criminal record."

Because he has gone public about his experience, he said he knows other teachers won't do what he did -- even if the student is disrespectful and in violation of the student code of conduct. "Knowing what I know now, I would have stepped back and just reported her," he said.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6434, or @beecourts on Twitter.

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