Keith Hunter, Golden Valley High’s varsity boys basketball coach of 24 years, is the man who inappropriately touched highly decorated teacher Annie Delgado, according to a letter of reprimand issued by the Merced Union High School District.
The incident gained notoriety when Delgado went before the school board in May to complain that the district poorly handled the March 2017 case, indicative of a “broken” system. Delgado never publicly identified the colleague.
But Hunter, who was honored this year for his 400th win as the school’s boys basketball coach, was named in a reprimand letter the district sent him following an investigation into the conduct. The Sun-Star obtained the disciplinary record through the California Public Records Act. The letter doesn’t name Delgado, but she confirmed that she is the victim of the alleged offenses outlined in the document.
The letter outlines Hunter’s alleged actions, including slapping Delgado on the buttocks and making lewd comments to her.
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The letter states that an independent investigation found Hunter had sexually touched and made lewd comments toward Delgado. It orders Hunter not to commit the offense again and required him to review district policies regarding sexual harassment, steps that Hunter said he has followed.
But the written warning wasn’t justice in the eyes of Delgado or of some women’s rights advocates and academics, who said the district’s handling of Delgado’s claim amounted to a “slap on the wrist” that enables such behavior.
Adding to Delgado’s dismay, a criminal investigation into the alleged misdemeanor sexual battery ended after police investigators failed to get the investigation reviewed by prosecutors before the statute of limitations expired.
Hunter acknowledged the disciplinary letter in a statement, but neither he nor his attorney would answer questions about the incident.
The letter’s release to the Sun-Star is the first time Hunter’s name has been made public.
The coach’s name wasn’t revealed by Delgado during a May 9 board meeting when she tearfully told trustees about the incident. Delgado is a decorated social studies and women’s studies teacher at Golden Valley High.
When Hunter was asked about the letter and allegations, he read a statement acknowledging receiving the letter of reprimand. “In this letter, I was provided specific directives and admonitions from the district,” Hunter said. “I have followed these directives since the letter was presented to me and will continue to do so until further instruction from the district.
“It was emphasized to me at the time I received the letter that all parties were to keep information pertaining to this letter confidential,” he said. “Accordingly, I am unable to provide any comments on this matter and would ask that you direct any further questions to the Merced Union High School District.”
Hunter and his attorney, Merced-based Aaron Castleton, declined to comment on whether Hunter committed the offenses.
“If he did it or not, it’s confidential and he’s a man of his word,” said Castleton, calling Hunter a “good man” who he has personally known since he was a student coached by Hunter.
Delgado said she confidentially told several people, including her husband, about the incident soon after it happened. She said she didn’t initially tell school authorities because she didn’t have faith the district would adequately discipline an employee who was well known and liked.
But over the next several months, Delgado said, she began to realize how much of an effect the incident had on her, to the point where it had started to affect her family, she said.
Delgado said she reported Hunter’s actions to the school district in November 2017, which is when an independent law firm investigated her claims.
Those claims were substantiated by the investigation in January, according to the school district’s response to a records request.
The investigation found that Hunter’s actions and comments during the Merced High School Boosters’ Hall of Fame induction dinner on March 25, 2017, violated the school district’s sexual harassment policies, according to the disciplinary letter, dated Jan. 5.
The letter states Hunter slapped Delgado on the buttocks during the dinner event.
Also, based on Hunter’s admission to investigators that he was likely drunk at the time, the letter states “it is more likely than not” Hunter that night told Delgado something to the effect of “You look really hot tonight,” “I think about you and your incredibly long legs and your ass,” and “And you have a brain too,” while waving his hands around her head.
Delgado said the disciplinary letter didn’t detail all of what she told administrators about Hunter’s actions and comments.
Struggling to talk as she recalled the incident, Delgado said Hunter had also commented on her breasts, waving his hands over them and saying, “And you have a brain, too. Who wouldn’t want to do you?” before slapping her buttocks.
The school district and Hunter declined to comment on his alleged actions and comments.
The letter orders Hunter to not engage in any conduct in the workplace or workplace-sponsored events that could be perceived as sex discrimination, sexual harassment, or bullying, abuse, retaliation, or embarrassing and/or demeaning behaviors.
He was ordered to refrain from verbal or physical conduct that could negatively impact the victim or any other district employee, the letter states.
He also was required to read and review board policies related to professional standards, non-discrimination in employment and sexual harassment, according to the letter.
Failure to comply with the directions could result in a notice of unprofessional conduct “or more serious discipline depending on the circumstances,” the letter reads.
Delgado’s response to findings
Delgado said she received an informal note from the district, lacking district letterhead, stating that Hunter had been reprimanded. The note stated guidelines of separation between Delgado and Hunter, she said.
Delgado also said her concerns were belittled and waved off by administrators when she sought clarification on the discipline during a Jan. 25 meeting. She said it signaled to her that the district didn’t take the incident seriously.
“I felt completely undervalued as an employee because (the discipline) was simply, ‘Here’s a letter, read these papers, read these papers, don’t do it again.’ And so whatever he did to you, the impact he had on you, isn’t very important,” Delgado said.
Delgado’s attorney, Jackie Len, said Delgado filed a second complaint about “several instances where she felt like she was being treated differently,” after she made her first complaint.
Len said the district investigated Delgado’s second complaint, but she didn’t give any additional details on that investigation, saying, “I’m not entirely happy with their investigation and findings, but I do acknowledge they heard her complaint and investigated it.”
The school district declined a Sun-Star records request for a copy of the investigation report, saying the report was protected by attorney-client privilege.
Delgado’s speech during the May 9 board meeting sparked a district-wide discussion on the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.
Hunter’s disciplinary letter was a “slap on the wrist,” said Caroline Heldman, a national advocate against sexual harassment and violence who helped organize the #TimesUpMerced movement that targets perceived systemic sexual harassment issues at the district.
Heldman said the discipline was “an insult to Annie,” adding that it enables people who commit sexual harassment.
The disciplinary letter, in conjunction with Delgado’s claims in her speech to the school board, was worrisome to Jennifer Freyd, a psychology professor and researcher at the University of Oregon who specializes in researching the effects of sexual violence and discrimination in institutions.
“I worry that the consequences in the letter of reprimand do not match the severity of the actions,” Freyd said in an email. “It thus comes across as a slap on the wrist. If the goal is to prevent this behavior in the future, it seems to me unlikely that a requirement to read policies will have much impact on this sort of behavior.”
The school district declined to comment on specific personnel matters.
The district did describe its process regarding disciplining for sexual harassment. In a statement, it says the goal is to eliminate unwelcome and inappropriate behavior and to protect the victim and others from repeated harassment.
First, the district considers the severity of the misconduct and its impact on the victim and work environment, motivation of the offender to improve, and use of progressive discipline, according to the statement. Then, the disciplinary response is tailored to the situation.
“In this matter, the District took effective disciplinary action to eliminate the offending behavior and prevent it from happening again,” the statement reads.
Delgado told the Sun-Star she has felt alienated and isolated since coming forward.
“I thought I was doing better in the summer. But since a couple weeks before going back to work, it has not been good,” she said.
Frustrated with the school district’s response, Delgado took her complaint to Merced police in February 2018, according to Chief Chris Goodwin.
The police on Feb. 8 started investigating the allegations. It took about two weeks for investigators to contact possible witnesses, due to the large number of people who attended the Merced High Hall of Fame dinner in 2017, Goodwin said.
After that, officers only needed Hunter’s statement to file a case. They attempted to interview Hunter, who initially declined to give any information. Hunter’s attorney also was contacted and declined to give a statement, the police chief said.
Hunter and his attorney told police they would contact authorities together at a later date, Goodwin said, adding officers tried to contact them multiple times, playing “phone tag.”
But the police department never heard from them, Goodwin said.
Hunter declined to comment on the claim that he never called back investigators. Castleton told the Sun-Star he doesn’t recall whether he and Hunter agreed to talk with investigators. But he said he would have referred officers, and anyone else, to the school district.
Police couldn’t arrest Hunter because the alleged crime was a misdemeanor that law enforcement didn’t witness, Goodwin said. The only way to arrest Hunter would have been for Delgado to fill out a citizen’s arrest statement. Police didn’t receive one from Delgado.
Delgado said she didn’t know about the option of a citizen’s arrest.
Because contact and an arrest couldn’t be made, investigators on March 15 decided to prepare a police report along with a recommended charge of misdemeanor sexual battery to the Merced County District Attorney’s Office, Goodwin said.
The District Attorney’s Office received the case from Merced police at about 4 p.m. March 23, a Friday, Chief Deputy District Attorney Rob Carroll said.
But the statute of limitations for misdemeanor sexual battery is one year from the date of the offense, Carroll said. The alleged abuse was classified as a misdemeanor sexual battery in part because the physical contact was not skin-to-skin, among other facts of the case, Carroll said.
“There’s no way that the alleged crime can be charged as a felony, assuming all the facts (Delgado alleged) were true,” Carroll said.
When the District Attorney’s Office looked at the misdemeanor case about four days after receiving it, attorneys found out the statute of limitations had already expired March 25, Carroll said.
Because the statute of limitations expired, the District Attorney’s Office could not prosecute the case. Prosecutors sent a notice to police and the investigation was closed.
The closing of the investigation was unfortunate, Goodwin said, noting the roughly six-week window from the time police were notified by Delgado to the expiring statute of limitations didn’t give authorities much time to investigate.
“That’s why it’s important to report crimes when they happen,” Goodwin said.
But for Delgado, it was about putting trust in the school district to handle the case before getting police involved.
“The whole reason why I went to the police department after (meeting with the district in January), was because I wanted to believe the district was going to do its job, but it didn’t,” Delgado said.
The statute of limitations for a specific charge and when the time limit starts isn’t always clear during an investigation on sex crimes, Goodwin said, noting that the investigating officer incorrectly thought the time limit started when Delgado told police about Hunter’s actions and comments.
It wasn’t until the refusal of complaint came back when investigators realized the time limit expired.
“From this, we have put out training for all of our people so this doesn’t happen again,” Goodwin said.
That training includes reminding officers during briefings about the importance of knowing the statute of limitations and making sure an officer and sergeant are on the same page regarding the time limits.
“It’s not making me feel better right now because again, there is absolutely no accountability,” Delgado said. “I’m just wondering who do people go to? I couldn’t go to my employer. I couldn’t go to (the police or the district attorney). Who do you go to?”