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DA: No Criminal Charges in MAD Affair

The Santa Barbara District Attorney’s office will not pursue criminal charges stemming from parents' allegations of adult "sexual predation" of students at the Multimedia Arts and Design Academy, DA Joyce Dudley told Newsmakers on Monday.

In an emailed statement in response to our inquiries, Dudley said there is “insufficient evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt” that Pablo Sweeney, a former longtime employee of the non-profit foundation that supports the Santa Barbara High School-based academy, interacted with two students “with the intention of committing a sex crime.”

After receiving a report from the SB Police Department, the DA’s office also concluded that there was not enough evidence to prove, "beyond a reasonable doubt," that either former MAD academy director Dan Williams, or other school district officials, had “reasonable suspicion” to believe that any student was a victim of “sexual abuse.” Therefore, neither Williams nor others had a legal obligation to report such a suspicion, according to the statement.

The District Attorney’s comments apparently close the circle on a high-profile incident that arose last spring, when several parents publicly accused the district of disregarding and concealing complaints about the behavior of adults running the academy.

Included in the parents' allegations were a video of Williams with students apparently using marijuana; references to inappropriate texts and emails sent to at least one student by Sweeney; concerns expressed about the two traveling out of the country with groups of students on end-of-year trips .

Amid the episode, Williams resigned from the school district, effective last June, while Sweeney was fired and banned from school grounds, where he had routinely worked. In the aftermath, the district adopted a policy of not allowing non-district personnel working for non-profits in support of academies to be based on campus.

Anthony Wagner, public information officer for the Santa Barbara Police Department, told Newsmakers last month that SBPD had “completed its investigation and has forwarded its findings to the DA to review.”

At that time, Dudley said one of her senior deputies was reviewing the matter. On Monday morning she said, via email, that a decision had been made:

"There will not be a filing in this case because our investigation and legal research resulted in us finding that there was insufficient evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Pablo Sweeney contacted minors John Doe 1 and John Doe 2 with the intention of committing a sex crime. Additionally, there was also insufficient evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Daniel Williams, or other school officials had reasonable suspicion that John Doe 1 was a victim of “sexual abuse” as defined under Penal Code section 11164 et sec, which would trigger the mandated reporting requirements under Penal Code section 11166.”

As a political matter, the controversy also damaged Superintendent Cary Matsuoka. A loose alliance of parents, unhappy with the district over a variety of issues, grew larger and more vocal during the MAD affair, accusing him of a “failure of leadership” and a lack of candor and transparency.

Under fire, the superintendent announced last month that he would retire at the end of the school year, before the end of his contract.

It remains unclear whether or not any parents have hired an attorney to pursue civil litigation against the district, as the Santa Barbara Independent previously reported.

For more background and context, Newsmakers’s coverage of last spring’s events may be found here, here and here .


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