A group of California Democratic Party activists that campaigned on holding leaders accountable for their positions on sexual violence are calling on one of their own to resign over remarks that cast doubt on his commitment to the cause.
The backlash against Palo Alto middle school teacher Greer Stone—one of the party’s 14 elected delegates in Assembly District 24—stems from the way he defended his pedophile half-brother, Michael Airo, at a Feb. 21 sentencing hearing.
In a statement to the judge, Stone introduced himself as chair of the Santa Clara County Justice Review Committee and extolled his brother’s virtues, calling the former Palo Alto teacher inspiring, a “good person” and “in his heart and soul, a caretaker.”
Stone made no mention of the victim.
Stanford law professor Michele Dauber—an appointed delegate who endorsed and organized the AD 24 slate in part to reform a party roiled by a sexual assault scandal that toppled ex-Chairman Eric Bauman—condemned Stone’s speech for its complete “lack of concern for the victim.” She said his words in court that day should preclude him from taking part in the California Democratic Party convention, where delegates from throughout the state gather in San Francisco this weekend to elect Bauman’s successor.
“It is understandable that he would ask for mercy for his relative,” Dauber said, “but he needed to do that in a way that acknowledged the devastation that Airo caused to his victim and to our public schools and our whole community in Palo Alto. It is disqualifying for a public school teacher, let alone a public official to say that a child molesting teacher is a ‘good person’ and to praise his work with children.”
Dauber’s husband, Palo Alto Unified School District trustee and fellow AD 24 delegate Ken Dauber, on Thursday echoed his wife’s reproof. By Friday, delegates Gary Kremen, of (AD 24) and Jennie Richardson (AD 27) joined the call for Stone’s resignation.
“Stone’s characterization of Airo as a selfless and inspirational teacher is deeply offensive,” Ken Dauber said. “Mike Airo took advantage of a position of trust and grievously injured a child in the worst imaginable way. He is the antithesis of what a teacher should be, and describing him, as Stone did, as an outstanding teacher does a terrible disservice to our students and to our district’s other teachers who are actually inspirational, caring educators who would not sexually assault a child.”
Kremen said Stone’s courtroom entreaty flies in the face of Democratic values.
“It is not acceptable to have a fellow slate member be an apologist for child sexual abuser,” he said. “While being a close relative of a convicted serial child molester is challenging, any apology should be to the victim. The focus should be on helping the victim, not on the accused’s ‘good character.’ Such a statement shows contempt for survivors and a lack of judgment and compassion.”
YWCA Silicon Valley Executive Director Tanis Crosby agreed. She said: “The only appropriate thing to say in front of a sexual assault survivor is ‘I believe you.’”
Quotes in Question
Dauber initially reached out to Stone on Wednesday—as soon as she caught wind of his controversial statement, part of which was quoted in a couple news articles about the February hearing. In an email, she asked if he could offer some explanation. “Perhaps the context of your full statement is less disturbing than the quote that appeared in the paper and before I respond to it publicly I would like to give you the benefit of the doubt,” she offered. “Therefore I am writing to ask you to please send your full statement.”
A day passed with no word. So she ordered a transcript and looped in several delegates on an email thread about the remarks.
On Thursday, Stone replied.
“The circumstances and events underlying my brother’s conviction are tragic for the … family,” he wrote in a message that twice mentioned the victim’s surname. “The trial was also traumatic and painful for my own family, especially my mother. How we now reconcile this with our own experience and family relationships is deeply personal.”
Whatever he said in court came from familial love, Stone explained.
“They should not be misconstrued as denying or belittling the crime my brother was convicted of, or its impacts on the … family.”
Dauber fired back a rebuke for his “casual” mention of the victim’s last name, calling it “completely and utterly shocking and inappropriate.” Further, she countered, if the matter was “deeply personal,” then he shouldn’t have touted his position as a county commissioner—one appointed by Supervisor Joe Simitian.
“Whatever the rules may be of the [Human Relations Commission’s] Justice Review Committee, I find your use of that role totally inappropriate and insulting to victims of sexual violence and to women generally,” she wrote. “I am sure that the Board of Supervisors did not intend to weigh in on this child molester’s sentence.”
Indeed, the way he brought up his title as chair of the Human Relations Commission subcommittee in court appears to violate county policy—or at least the spirit of it.
“If you clearly state that your public statements reflects your position purely as a private citizen and not as a representative of the commission you may publicly express your position on an issue ...” per the policy manual. It goes on to state: “If your title is used for information purposes, you must include a disclaimer that you do not speak for the County of Santa Clara or the commission of which you are a member.”
Stone made no such clarification at the sentencing.
“Through my experience as an attorney and as the current chair of the Santa Clara County Justice Review Committee, I have seen, firsthand, the deleterious effects that arrests and convictions have on people’s lives,” he told the judge that day. “I have worked closely with impoverished communities, communities that often see incarceration rates far higher than the norm. And beyond the obvious frustration of incarceration, I have always been pained to see how many people, even those with bright futures, have those futures extinguished because they simply give up.”
‘I Love My Brother’
When asked about the blowback over his speech, Stone stood by it. But he did finally acknowledge the victim in a statement emailed to San Jose Inside Friday.
“The crimes underlying my brother’s conviction are tragic for the victim and her family,” he said. “The crimes he was convicted of are appalling. The trial was also painful for my own family. How we reconcile this with our own experience and family relationships is profoundly personal. My role during the sentencing hearing was to testify honestly regarding my relationship with my brother and who he was as I knew him. I love my brother, and my comments were born of familial love and my observations and experience together throughout our relationship.”
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Charles Wilson sentenced Airo to 15 years in state prison for sexually abusing the victim—his ex-girlfriend’s daughter—while she was a preteen and he was 10 years her senior. The victim, who’s now in her 20s, sat through the same hearing where Stone spoke so glowingly about his older brother, who maintains his innocence and plans to appeal his conviction.
“Just before I started fifth grade, the defendant moved in with us and began sexually abusing me,” she told the judge. “He started by telling me that if I was to be his daughter, I should be able to change my clothes in front of him. He would do little things like touch my leg in the car or hold my hand while walking and have me sit on his lap. This eventually escalated to him kissing and touching my body while I was showering. I was taken advantage of as a defenseless, young child. My body was touched in ways that I did not want and by a person who should not have touched me.”
The victim kept the abuse secret until her college years, when she told a therapist in 2016 who relayed the disclosure to police. In her impact statement, she described how the abuse left lasting damage that still pains her to this day.
“My body no longer feels like it’s my own,” she said. “Too often I am seized by memories of the defendant touching and kissing me in the shower. Even today, I open the shower door in the opposite direction that the defendant opened it because opening it in the same way he did causes flashbacks of the abuse. The defendant’s manipulation of the truth, paired with the inappropriate way he touched me, led me to believe and feel that I am powerless and my only purpose was to please him.”
The young woman said she spent the past six years in therapy trying learn how to undo the damage and re-draw her boundaries.
“The defendant has already taken so much from me that I will never get back,” she said. “It is directly because of the defendant’s abuse that I now feel powerless, vulnerable, and even sometimes worthless. I will never be free from the result of this crime.”