SANTA CLARA (KPIX 5) – A man running for Santa Clara County Supervisor, who has pitched himself as a backer of the “#MeToo” movement, found himself at the center of disturbing allegations of sexual misconduct on Wednesday.
Santa Clara City Councilman, veteran teacher and candidate for Santa Clara County Supervisor Dominic Caserta is facing growing calls for to resign after several young women say he sexually harassed them.
San Jose firefighters, police officers and prosecutors are calling on him to resign and withdraw from the county Supervisors’ race.
KPIX 5 spoke with one of the staffers who spoke out about the behavior that made her dread going to work for Caserta.
“He laid his hand on my thigh and he didn’t move it until I left the car,” remembered former campaign volunteer Lydia Jungkind.
It was the moment campaign volunteer Jungkind had been dreading after having repeatedly brushed off back rubs and ducked sexually suggestive comments for weeks.
She said during a car ride, Caserta finally made his feelings plain.
“He told me it was really hard to resist the urge to kiss me right now and that it was hard for any man not to be attracted to me,” said Jungkind. “So, yes, he made his intentions very clear.”
The allegations of inappropriate behavior have thrown Caserta’s political and personal life into a tailspin.
“These allegations are false and I’m sad that they’re coming out 29 days before an election,” Caserta said.
The first person to accuse Caserta of misconduct was his former campaign manager Ian Crueldad in an interview with Metro Silicon Valley newspaper.
“I’ve never seen a candidate walk around in his house — in front of volunteers — with only a towel on,” said Crueldad.
Caserta has denied that specific charge.
“Those allegations — like me walking around my home in towel — never happened,” said Caserta.
The candidate maintains Crueldad left the campaign last month in a dispute over salary and his allegations are those of a disgruntled employee.
Nonetheless, the fallout has been swift and ever-expanding.
The Santa Clara County Democratic Party, the South Bay Labor Council and the organizers of the Recall Judge Persky campaign have all rescinded their endorsements of Caserta.
Caserta’s electronic billboard along highway 101 still proudly proclaims him a supporter of the recall and the #MeToo movement, even as he now find himself in its crosshairs.
“The safety, the health and the welfare of my students, staff and volunteers is priority number one to me,” said Caserta. “If anyone perceives that I did anything to violate that trust, I apologize monumentally.”
Jungkind for one did not seem interested in a mere apology.
“I think he should take responsibility for his actions,” said Jungkind. “He’s someone who knows exactly what he’s doing. I think the experience in his car shows with complete clarity what his intentions were with me.”
The City of Santa Clara sent out a press release urging anyone who felt Councilman Caserta had behaved in an inappropriate manner with them to come forward. The allegations are going to be discussed at the upcoming May 15 City Council meeting.
City officials said that Caserta’s personnel file did not contain any record of incidents.
The Metro Silicon Valley also reported that Caserta, who has taught Civics at Santa Clara High School for many years, had several allegations of sexual harassment involving students dating as far back as 2002.
Caserta acknowledged those incidents, but said the incidents were thoroughly investigated by school officials and maintains that the fact that he is still employed there a decade later is evidence that the investigations were – in his opinion – without merit.
Tom Saggau of Saggau-Derollo LLC, who represents the Santa Clara County Government Attorneys’ Association, San Jose Police Officers’ Association and San Jose Firefighters Local 230, made the demands for Caserta to resign and pull out of the race in a statement on Wednesday.
Saggau said that the three groups are asking for Caserta to give up his council seat and a withdrawal from the race to replace Supervisor Ken Yeager because when one is called on to withdraw from taking on a future position as a result of such allegations, they should be removed from their current elected position too.
“We are appalled by the credible allegations of sexual harassment, inappropriate touching and repugnant behavior made against Caserta by multiple campaign staff, volunteers and children he taught,” the statement said.
The three groups find the allegations recounted by female minors alleging acts such as inappropriate communication, sexual innuendo and leering that occurred on the campus where Caserta works, including in his own classroom, especially troubling.
“As a teacher and as an elected official, Caserta has held a position of trust,” according to the statement. “These young women counted on Caserta to educate them, not exploit them. They deserved better. We applaud their courage to come forward with their stories.”
The statement referenced a sexual harassment complaint against Caserta by a female student and said that it was obvious the information was hidden to further his political career.
In a statement published Tuesday on Caserta’s campaign website, he addressed the complaint by saying that the school district released confidential information from his file on Monday to “everyone in the district” without his consent.
Caserta denies all allegations in the statement, saying that he has taught at Santa Clara High School, local community colleges and public universities for 20 years and has “given his heart and soul to the profession.”
Caserta said that he has won awards such as Santa Clara High’s Teacher of the Year award.
The supervisorial candidate said that there are often accusations made against him because he is a public official and that they are “simply false and made up.”
Previously, Caserta had the endorsement of the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee. However, they issued a statement Wednesday morning stating that the allegations were too serious not to revoke their approval.
“We believe women of all ages should be free of any form of harassment, at school, in the workplace, and in any other setting,” the committee said in their statement.
Caserta said in his statement that it isn’t a coincidence the allegations against him are coming up now.
“With only 28 days left in my election, the timing of the public record’s request that kicked off this whole mess is no mistake,” Caserta said. “The media’s interest in blowing things out of proportion isn’t either.”
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