News Literacy

“UPDATE: Davis teacher arrested, cited for sexual battery”

(Published on on Nov. 16, 2014)

About: As soon as I learned about the situation regarding John O’Brien, I worked closely with my editor-in-chief to write a news story that included the opinions of students he taught–we wanted to avoid simply copying other publications. We made sure to cite multiple sources to ensure accuracy.

By Kellen Browning and Ashley Han, Editors–

UPDATE: According to numerous news reports, Harper science teacher John O’Brien was arrested and cited in Concord Nov. 14, on one misdemeanor charge of sexual battery, then released. The accusation could lead to O’Brien’s termination from his job and if convicted, force him to register as a sex offender for life.

O’Brien has not been on campus for several weeks, according to a Harper student KCRA interviewed. In an interview with KCRA, Davis police officer Sgt. James Macniven said, “Mr. O’Brien was taken into custody by the Concord Police Department in Contra Costa County in the East Bay Area.”

The Davis Enterprise reports that O’Brien is accused of inappropriately touching a 16-year-old boy he had befriended when the boy was a junior high student. O’Brien was suspected of touching the boy at the boy’s Davis home, according to The Sacramento Bee.

In general, a misdemeanor sexual battery charge involves a suspect touching a victim in a private area outside their clothing. O’Brien could face a year in jail.

According to ABC News 10, Davis Police Sgt. Dan Powell said that O’Brien was released with a notice to appear in Court, which will be scheduled for mid-January.

The original story is below.

DJUSD Superintendent Winfred Roberson sent an important email message to “staff, families and friends” around 4 p.m. on Nov. 14 regarding Harper Junior High science teacher John O’Brien’s recent charge with alleged sexual battery. A warrant had been issued for O’Brien’s arrest.

According to multiple news sites, Roberson said, “to the best of our knowledge, the alleged events that led to the warrant for Mr. O’Brien’s arrest did not occur on school campus.”

Spokesman Lt. Tom Waltz of the Davis Police Department said yesterday that he could not add any information about the details of the charge until O’Brien’s arrest.

Former Harper student and current Davis High junior Alex Diaz was shocked when she heard the news.

“I didn’t really know [O’Brien] personally but I had talked to him a couple times and had friends who had him as a teacher. He was super cool. Everyone loved him,” Diaz said. “From what I was told, he was a really nice and good teacher.”

Diaz recalls being in Harper leadership, which “would always have [O’Brien] involved in rallies and lunchtime activities because everyone loved him.”

O’Brien, who won a yearbook award at Harper for the most energetic teacher, was described as “so positive and happy to everyone” by junior Josh Gieschen, a former Harper student who was also surprised by the news.

“He just walked around saying ‘hi’ and ‘hello’ to everyone being friendly,” Gieschen said.

Junior Elizabeth Salomon, another Harper alumna, says the charge on O’Brien is the last thing she would expect.

“I couldn’t believe it. He wasn’t my teacher but I knew him since he worked with the drama department when I was in some of the school plays. He was like the friendliest teacher on campus,” Salomon said.

Salomon believes that the district is taking appropriate action and is properly investigating the incident.

“I trust that the school district and appropriate parties will take action to get to the bottom of it,” Salomon said.

In a press release sent by Public Information Officer Maria Clayton, Roberson recomfirmed his priority: to keep students safe.

“Our number one goal is always to keep students safe. We take these matters extremely seriously,” Roberson said.

Although Salomon trusts the district to handle the incident, she said on Nov. 14 that she believes it’s possible that O’Brien could be innocent.

“He knew kids outside of school and was always there for them no matter what, people confided in him and I think someone might’ve taken it out of proportion,” Salomon said.

The school district urges anyone with additional details relating to O’Brien or the incident to call the Davis Police Department at 530-747-5400.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

“VIDEO: Superintendent delivers statement on arrest of O’Brien”

(Published on on Nov. 17, 2015)

About: My editor-in-chief and I were invited to miss school to attend a press conference at the school district office about O’Brien’s arrest. I filmed the Superintendent’s address to numerous news outlets and asked questions to verify facts. We published the video an hour later, before other publications.

“Superintendent Roberson announces O’Brien’s resignation”

(Published on on Jan. 13, 2015)

About: We concluded our coverage of the O’Brien case with the announcement of his resignation. Throughout the developing story, we knew the stakes were high and ensured our facts were accurate and that we did not commit any legal errors in our language. O’Brien eventually pled no contest in July.

Superintendent Roberson speaks at a press conference addressing the arrest of teacher John O'Brien on Nov. 17, 2014.

Superintendent Roberson speaks at a press conference addressing the arrest of teacher John O’Brien on Nov. 17, 2014.

By Kellen Browning and Ashley Han, Editors–

The DJUSD School Board formally accepted John O’Brien’s resignation on Sunday, Jan. 11, according to a press release provided by Public Information Officer Maria Clayton. O’Brien, a teacher from Harper Jr. High, was charged with sexual battery of a student on Nov. 14, 2014, and was subsequently placed on unpaid leave by the district.

On Dec. 19, 2014, the school district accepted his resignation, which was formally confirmed on Sunday. According to the press release, “As a result of [O’Brien’s] resignation, the district will no longer pursue an action for termination before a Commission on Professional Competence.” O’Brien agreed to resign “for a payment of $37,000 to buy-back a portion of his unused sick leave.”

According to School Board President Alan Fernandes, “The Board, on a 5-0 vote, agreed to sever the relationship with Mr. O’Brien immediately. The security of our children is paramount.”

“This agreement was designed to secure a resignation at the least possible cost to the district,” Fernandes added. “We are certain that the cost of pursuing this matter through the dismissal process would likely exceed $100,000.”

“District staff completely supports the unanimous decision of the School Board on this matter. This brings closure to this situation for our district,” Superintendent Winfred Roberson said.

The district will report O’Brien’s resignation from employment to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) due to allegations of misconduct. The CTC could either suspend or revoke O’Brien’s teaching credentials. O’Brien also continues to face criminal charges in the Yolo County Court.

In a December article published in The Davis Enterprise, O’Brien’s lawyer Ken Moyal denied the charges leveled against his client.

“We are most definitely going to be fighting these charges vigorously,” Moyal said.

This story will be updated as more details become available.

Previous articles about this topic:
Davis teacher arrested, cited for sexual battery
VIDEO: Superintendent delivers statement on arrest of O’Brien