Santa Clara Councilman Dominic Caserta has resigned from office and pulled out of the Santa Clara County supervisor race amid mounting allegations of sexual misconduct.
The 43-year-old Santa Clara High civics teacher—who was a frontrunner in the race to succeed county Supervisor Ken Yeager—made the announcement hours ahead of a public hearing Tuesday for members of the community to testify about his alleged harassment.
Nine people in the past week have filed police reports against Caserta, who has also been disciplined multiple times over the years for sexually harassing students. One of those reports involves an allegation that he pressed his clothed groin against a young woman.
But the embattled official continues to deny the claims.
“The allegations against me are false in every sense of the word, yet I have been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion without due process or recognition of my distinguished service to the school or the city,” he wrote in a statement. “Reading the papers, online reports and watching the news has been unbelievably excruciating.”
In his statement, Caserta calls out Santa Clara Unified School District for inadvertently emailing portions of his personnel file to 1,600 employees, one of whom forwarded several pages of those records to San Jose Inside.
“When my personnel file was illegally released by the Santa Clara Unified School District [May 7], irreparable harm occurred to me and my family,” he said. “Shortly after, the file was sent to the media by a district employee and a social media circus ensued with just four weeks before the primary election Political adversaries are motivated to discredit my candidacy, bury me professionally and personally. I will not let that happen.”
Santa Clara Unified has remained relatively quiet about the Caserta scandal in the past week, declining multiple requests for comment. Sources at Santa Clara High say Caserta hasn’t shown up to work in the past week and is thought to be on paid leave.
San Jose Inside broke the story of Caserta’s alleged harassment when his former campaign manager Ian Crueldad and former campaign volunteer Lydia Jungkind went public with their claims of misconduct. Jungkind, 19, said the candidate touched her thighs and hips, kissed her on the cheek and gave her unwanted massages.
Crueldad said he witnessed the impropriety firsthand.
Within hours of the allegations coming to light, Caserta’s major supporters began withdrawing endorsements for his campaign. Michele Dauber, who heads the campaign to recall Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, rescinded her support. As did the South Bay Labor Council. His campaign consultant Laura Teutschel quit an hour and 20 minutes after the story went live.
An independent expenditure committee called Santa Clarans for Good County Government, which bankrolled Caserta campaign mailers and billboards that remained posted throughout the South Bay until this week, immediately disbanded. And dozens of current and former students flooded San Jose Inside with accounts of Caserta’s misconduct, which they say ranged from inappropriate touching to verbal harassment and abusing his position of authority.
Jungkind, who was in class at Foothill College when she heard about Caserta’s resignation, said the news brings some measure of relief. But, she noted, the police investigations are ongoing.
“I hope this will get me and other victims closure and time to heal,” she said in a text sent from class. “His press statement, unfortunately, demonstrates that he still thinks of himself as an upstanding community member. He is not. I want to see justice being done with a thorough police investigation. His behavior was harmful, degrading and I am saddened to see that he thinks he is the victim of a witch hunt.”
Foothill College, where Caserta met Jungkind while he taught political science part-time, has meanwhile asked students to come forward with any unreported misconduct.
“Through recent media inquiry, we have been made aware of sexual misconduct allegations by a Foothill student against a part-time instructor,” Foothill College President Thi Thuy Nguyen wrote in an announcement to the student body. “The college has reached out to the student to offer resources and information regarding student rights and district policies on sexual misconduct. The college has also taken immediate and appropriate steps to respond to the allegations.”
A coalition of public safety unions, which withdrew their support along with South Bay Labor last week, held a news conference with Crueldad to put out a similar call to victims.
“As police officers, we stand for victims,” San Jose Police Officers’ Association President Paul Kelly said. “As a society, we must redouble our efforts to end the pattern of abusive behavior by men and intervene when a boss is inappropriate with a subordinate or a teacher crosses the line with his students.”
Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor said Caserta made the right decision by stepping down.
“His actions have been a terrible stain on our city,” she told reporters this morning.
As a mother with children around the same age as some of Caserta’s accusers, Gillmor said, she feels personally pained by the revelations of the past week.
“I feel sorry for what you may have experienced,” Gillmor said, addressing the people Caserta allegedly harmed. “But I also commend you for your courage. It’s not easy for anyone, especially young adults and minors, to stand up to people in positions of power. But many of you stood up. Our community should applaud your bravery.”
Now, she said, it’s time to move forward. On May 22, the council will weigh its options for filling Caserta’s seat with the rest of the year left before the end of his term.
Observers say the most consequential impact of Caserta’s departure this week isn’t on the county supes race but on the Santa Clara council. If Gillmor fills the vacant seat with someone who aligns with her agenda, she’ll go from a 4-3 to a 5-2 majority.
That worries Councilwoman Pat Mahan, who comprises a minority bloc with Councilman Pat Kolstad and, until now, Caserta.
Mahan, who declined to comment on the charges against Caserta, expressed concern about Gillmor and her allies seizing upon his resignation to advance their own political aims. With that in mind, Mahan said she hopes the city will leave the seat empty until the November election.
“There shouldn’t be any backroom deals,” she said. “We should have a free and open and honest election, because five people should not decide the future of Santa Clara.”