It started innocently enough, with platonic banter about art and poetry.
It was the fall of 1984 and Daisy—whose name has been changed to protect her identity—was a freshman at Presentation High School, a prestigious all-girls parochial school in San Jose. With her Vidal Sassoon-style haircut, she felt worldly in a way most of her peers were not, and her Spanish teacher, John Fernandez, took notice.
The instructor, who often wore a camera around his neck and ran the school’s photography club, began engaging her in one-on-one talks about things like black-and-white imagery and the creative process.
But the discussions began to extend beyond school hours.
Daisy says Fernandez preyed on her “lofty artistic dreams” by turning their after-school lessons into sexually charged encounters in which he would show her nude photos and divulge his predilection for voyeurism. One day, using a project, he flashed an image over her clothed body of naked French women riding bikes and standing in the sand. “He said that it was part of me learning about the French culture,” says Daisy, who shared her story in an exclusive interview with San Jose Inside.
The final time Fernandez projected a nude photo onto Daisy, she says he positioned himself at a desk in the back of the classroom and masturbated. In the coming year, Daisy says she reported what happened to at least five school administrators, including former principal Marian Stuckey, then-vice principal Mary Miller and Sister Pam Chiesa.
Instead of any action being taken, Daisy says Miller called her a fantasist and retaliated against her for even broaching the subject.
More than 40 women have reportedly suffered sexual misconduct and assault over the past four decades at the hands of Pres teachers and coaches.
Virtually all of the accusers came forward after Pres alum Kathryn Leehane’s 2017 Washington Post essay about how the school failed her ignited fierce public backlash and a media firestorm. In addition to the accusations of abuse are claims that the Catholic school broke laws that require administrators to tell law enforcement about the allegations. It took two years and a new Pres president, Holly Elkins, but in September, the school finally agreed to hire a law firm to conduct an independent investigation.
As Pres proceeds with its external inquiry, however, San Jose Inside has learned that law enforcement is quietly putting its own case to rest. After more than a year of investigating whether Pres officials engaged in a conspiracy to conceal sexual misconduct, the San Jose Police Department concluded that there’s no proof of a cover-up.
SJPD Chief Eddie Garcia relayed the message last month in a letter to Leehane. In the missive obtained exclusively by San Jose Inside, Garcia says the complaints have been “thoroughly investigated.” But with dozens of testimonies from survivors and witnesses, Leehane and her allies question whether police conducted a thorough enough probe.
Now, it may be too late.
As the driving force behind the website makepressafe.com, Leehane had documented scores of abuse cases at Pres and has come to know many of the women behind the allegations. So when SJPD launched its investigation into Pres, Leehane says then-Sgt. Brian Spears—the detective originally assigned to the case—encouraged her to have survivors reach out to him.
Several took Spears up on the offer. In 2018, Katharine Magana contacted the detective to share how her math teacher made inappropriate comments and pressed his leg up against hers during the 2006-07 school year. She says she never heard back from Spears. Two other women—who asked to remain anonymous—say they, too, contacted the officer by email. One says she never got an answer; the other says she spoke with him by phone.
Yet Lt. Brian Anderson, who has since replaced Spears as the head of the Sexual Assault Unit, says his colleague left no record of communicating with any of the three women, even though one of them sent a written narrative about her claims. “We have a lot of statements that have been made via makepressafe.com,” Anderson says. “These are not police reports and cannot be taken as police reports unless the victim comes to us and makes a statement.”
People who say they witnessed sexual misconduct at Pres also had trouble getting through. At least four people say they contacted Spears and got no reply—including former teacher Tara Komar. She says she called and emailed the investigator twice—to no avail. Nearly a year later, she says she followed up with Capt. Randall Schriefer, who says he forwarded her email on to Anderson. Still, she says she received no response.
Komar acknowledges that she has only secondhand information to offer, but says she told Spears she’d help connect him with educators who had first-hand knowledge. In her emails, she also detailed “red flags” she says she witnessed during her 14-year tenure at the school. And while they weren’t necessarily sexual in nature, she says they were indicative of how Pres handled complaints of inappropriate behavior by teachers.
“It’s disappointing that people are not getting any kind of response from the San Jose Police Department,” Komar says. “When you’re dealing with victims of sexual assaults or you’re dealing with people who are simply trying to help those people, acknowledge the fact that they have tried to give you some information.”
Anderson, however, says information from witnesses like Komar isn’t necessarily pertinent to the investigation, and that police rely more on survivors come forward.
“With a conspiracy case, we got to have victims,” he says. “A conspiracy is almost like putting a second story on a house—we need the foundation.”
When asked if it was protocol to follow up when someone submits a written statement of a crime, Anderson answers affirmatively. So why the radio silence?
After two years of back-and-forth emails and phone calls to SJPD and the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, Leehane says she only learned in the past month that the crime they were investigating had a statute of limitations of three years.
Leehane is livid.
“They misled us,” she laments, “and re-traumatized a victimized community with their poor communication: failing to give updates, threatening to hang up on people and giving false hope to victims of childhood sexual abuse.”
Leehane says she now plans to focus her energy on pushing to change laws to prevent what happened at Presentation.
Dina Leonis says police and prosecutors failed her daughter in more ways than one.
Five years ago, the San Jose mom says 24-year-old Pres water polo coach Jenna Roe molested 14-year-old Grace Leonis. SJPD investigated the incident twice—once after it happened in 2014, and again in 2018 after an NBC Bay Area report shed light on the decades of alleged misconduct at Pres. Both times, the DA declined to file charges.
Dina Leonis says she even taped a pretext call with Roe in 2014 in which the former coach admitted to sending her daughter a photo of a pink dildo. Leonis recalls Det. Ryan Kimber giving her a high five, saying, “We got her.”
Apparently, he spoke too soon. The statute of limitations expired before the second investigation even commenced. Anderson explains the outcome by saying the case had a lot of “complexities” and the DA had evidentiary reasons to eschew filing charges. Yet the nature of those reasons remains a mystery to anyone but the people who investigated the case. Assistant District Attorney Terry Harman says that shroud of attorney-client secrecy is par for the course.
Glen Smith—a legal fellow at free speech non-profit First Amendment Coalition—says state law is written broadly enough for authorities to keep files under lock even if they close a case. Still, he adds, it’s discretionary.
“The police could if they wanted to elect to release the records despite the existence of the exemption,” Smith says. “They’re not breaking any laws if they were to release it.”
Dina Leonis says the uncertainty is devastating—as is the way the department allegedly treated her family. She says Kimber, who ran the first investigation, intimidated her daughter and that other officers victim-blamed her in police reports.
“They accuse her of changing her story, which she never did,” Dina Leonis said. “She added more later, which is usually what a sexual assault victim does. We didn’t know she was penetrated until way later when she almost killed herself.”
Scarred for Life
Thirty-five years have passed since Daisy says she fell prey to her teacher’s furtive advances, and she still lives with the psychological scars.
Her life turned out different than she imagined. As an incoming freshman, she ranked at the top of her class and set her sights on an Ivy League school. But with Fernandez’s grooming, those dreams began to slip away. Daisy’s grades suffered and the stress became so severe that she would frequently throw up. Instead of attending NYU or Stanford, she settled for community college.
“They ruined my entire life,” she says. “I recovered, but it took a long time to do that.”
She says she also shoulders the burden of being the first person Fernandez allegedly abused. Fellow survivors call her Victim Zero.
“Had they taken into consideration and seriously understood what was happening to me, it may not have happened with others,” Daisy says. “And knowing that, it’s an unbearable amount of guilt that I did something wrong, that I didn’t say the right thing, that maybe I didn’t tell as much of the story as I should have.”