Davitt Asked Campus Police to ‘Hold’ Copies of El Vaquero

Olga Ramaz

Former Superintendent/President John Davitt admitted to asking campus police to “hold” copies of the June 9 issue of El Vaquero during the final days of the spring semester when the newspaper staff found all copies of the newspaper missing from the newsstands.

Davitt’s justification for ordering the “holding” of the papers was that the publication contained an article and an accompanying cartoon that was “slanderous to [the] nursing department.”

The article, which was characterized by the former president as being “slanderous,” was written by El Vaquero news editor Pauline Guiuan and titled “Student Suicides Cause Concern.” It addressed the problem of depression and how the affliction can potentially lead to suicide.

According to Davitt, the naming of one of the two nursing students who had committed suicide over the last school year was offensive. He said that the article had triggered several phone calls, mainly from the nursing department, to his office.

Davitt stated that the article gave the impression that it was the “rigor of the [nursing] program [that] contributed to [the students’] suicide.”

Nidal Kobaissi, captain of the campus police department, recalled receiving a phone call from Davitt in which he (Davitt) asked Kobaissi to have campus police personnel remove the newspapers from the racks.

Davitt does not clearly remember when he placed the phone call, but he implied that it could have been made the week of June 12, prior to meeting with Michael Moreau, faculty adviser to the El Vaquero.

Davitt admitted to having called Kobaissi, but denied that he asked him to “remove” the papers. Davitt insisted that he asked Kobaissi to “hold” the papers until Moreau returned Davitt’s phone calls to discuss the student suicide article.

Kobaissi admitted to a relayed chain of command in which officers and cadets participated in the “physical removal” of copies of the June 9 issue of El Vaquero.

He said, however, that initially he did not question Davitt’s orders to have the papers removed because Davitt told him that Moreau had agreed on having campus police “hold” the papers until he and Davitt had discussed the newspaper.

When asked if he had agreed to the “holding” of the papers, Moreau said that he “did not agree to have the papers removed from the racks” and that the statement made by Kobaissi was “false.”

According to Kobaissi, Davitt called campus police a second time and asked to have the papers “held” once again.

However, on Davitt’s second attempt to have the papers confiscated, Campus Police Chief Steve Wagg refused the request. Kobaissi said that once Wagg found out the “politics” behind the removal of the papers, he declined and said “we [campus police] don’t want to be a part of it.”

Davitt denied these accusations and said that the second time he called campus police headquarters was to put a halt to the “holding” of the newspapers.

Mike Allen, mathematics instructor and guild president, said that the alleged “mistake,” as referred to by Kobaissi and Davitt, was a “hot issue” between “everyone” [faculty, staff, et al.] at the time. Allen said he was not surprised that during a casual conversation, Kobaissi mentioned to him that Davitt had indeed called him to ask for the removal of the newspapers.

Two weeks into the fall semester, several sources came forward holding Davitt and campus police accountable for the removal of the papers.

A person familiar with campus police personnel, who requested anonymity for the purpose of this story, said that he recalled spotting several stacks of newspapers sitting in campus police headquarters.

“One day, when I walked in.I noticed all the newspapers,” he said. “I remember seeing them and thinking, ‘[they] never have newspapers in here. What’s the deal with that?'”

Both this source and another anonymous source said that the atmosphere in the police office was very “hush-hush.”

The second source said that “everyone [in campus police headquarters] was very secretive and trying really hard to make sure no one found out about the situation.”

In an article published on June 21 in the Glendale News-Press, titled “Vanishing Newspapers Stir Trouble on Campus,” Davitt implied that “it could have been custodians who were cleaning up the campus or angry faculty members who removed the papers.”
However, Facilities Manager Dan Padilla said that when it comes to El Vaquero’s seven news racks, custodians and maintenance personnel “bypass them.”

“We don’t touch them [the news racks],” said Padilla. “The only thing we would touch is if they [newspapers] were put in a box or a bag and left set out somewhere. That kind of indicates that people want that disposed of.”

As reported in an editorial published in the Sept. 22 edition of El Vaquero, “El Vaquero Supports Students’ Rights for Truth,” the series of events following the June 9 publication unfolded as follows:

On June 15, former editor-in-chief Jane Pojawa noticed that a large number of newspapers were missing from their racks.

One June 17, Moreau called Pojawa after noticing the sudden disappearance of the newspapers. Moreau re-stocked the racks on June 19. The next day, the racks were emptied again. However, on the afternoon of June 19, Moreau was called into Davitt’s office and was confronted by Davitt and head of the nursing department Cynthia Dorroh regarding the article in question.

At the meeting, an agreement was reached by both Davitt and Moreau. Davitt agreed to leave the newspapers in the racks and Moreau agreed to pull the story off the paper’s Web site.

However, on June 20, the El Vaquero news racks were emptied again. Davitt denied any link to this particular incident.

When asked if he had any idea of who would have emptied out the racks, he reiterated his belief that it could have been GCC custodians.

Pojawa filed an incident report with campus police on the morning of June 20. In the report Pojawa estimated a loss of $1,200 in advertising revenue due to lack of distribution.

As reported in the Glendale College Police Detail Incident Report 06-0304, Pojawa met with Kobaissi, who informed her that an unidentified source had contacted campus police and tipped them off regarding the whereabouts of the missing papers. Copies of El Vaquero were found inside the dumpster behind Lot E.

Campus police said that the case regarding the thefts of El Vaquero is considered closed due to lack of evidence. This incident, however, continues to gain coverage in the local and national press because of its compromise of El Vaquero’s First Amendment rights.

In their Nov. 23 edition, the Pasadena Weekly referred to GCC’s administration as a “Golden Gobbler.” The article states, “with friends like former Glendale Community College Superintendent John Davitt, the First Amendment doesn’t need any more enemies…many suspect that Davitt ordered the papers pulled.”

In July, the journal Inside Higher Education quoted Mark Goodman, director of the Student Press Law Center, to have said, “This was a clear First Amendment infringement. How student newspapers cover suicide is sometimes contentious, but I haven’t seen the kind of actions that were taken in this case.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed two pieces of legislation that will protect newspapers from theft and censorship.

The anti-theft measure, AB 2612, is designed to protect free publications by making it illegal to take more than 25 copies of a newspaper to recycle them.

The governor also signed AB 2581, an anti-censorship bill passed by the California Senate back in August, which prohibits colleges and universities from penalizing students who engage in press activities required to produce a newspaper.