Jennifer Van Laar | Dante Acosta continues retaliation against accuserContributor January 7, 2019 0 COMMENTS
I had planned to ignore the nomination of Dante Acosta to the Santa Clarita Valley Water Board.
Even after my phone blew up on the night of Dec. 14 with messages about the night’s proceedings, I thought the easiest and most peaceful course of action would be to go about my life and let success be my response. It likely would have been.
I thought about it a lot over the holidays, though, and realized that when Acosta stood there saying that he shouldn’t have to keep answering for the allegations against him and making the deceptive claim that “every one of these allegations have been proven demonstrably false,” he was retaliating against me yet again. And, since the retaliation – and its consequences – continues, why shouldn’t he have to keep answering for it?
When someone has the ability to lie that easily and effortlessly, it should frighten us all.
It’s rumored that Acosta will again use the “demonstrably false” statement at Monday night’s Water Board meeting. Since multiple instances of his (and his surrogates’) retaliatory and defamatory behavior are public knowledge and/or have been corroborated by an outside investigator, his contention is a joke. A harmful, untruthful joke, but a joke nonetheless.
I’ll outline those instances in a moment, but first need to clear up a misconception. The complaint I filed with the Assembly in December 2017 did not accuse Acosta of sexual harassment. The complaint very specifically alleged that Acosta improperly used Assembly resources to intimidate and harass me and that he and members of his campaign coordinated with others to retaliate against me and my former business partner, Scott Hounsell.
Under a new procedure in which all claims that are deemed valid are referred to an outside attorney, the Assembly Rules Committee informed me on Jan. 19, 2018 (right before my Talk of Santa Clarita podcast was released) that they’d hired an outside attorney to investigate the claim.
Between the time I submitted the complaint and the time of my first interview with the investigator on February 7, 2018, I learned specifically what had been said about me in the community by Acosta and his surrogates. While recording the ToSC podcast, Stephen Daniels told me that they were saying I was socially awkward, difficult to work with, and that I had misinterpreted Acosta’s friendliness as a sexual proposition.
When I finally met with the investigator I told him about those specifics but was told that since they happened before Acosta was in office it was outside their jurisdiction. He also informed me that since he was employed by the Assembly Rules Committee, his attorney/client privilege was with them, not with me or Acosta. He said he was just starting to interview witnesses, that the investigation was confidential and would take a few months to complete, and to refrain from making public comments about the matter.
Just two days later, a reporter from the SCV Signal contacted me for comment on a letter the paper received from the Assembly Rules Committee in response to a Public Records Act request saying that Acosta had been cleared. I was shocked, but soon realized he’d completely misunderstood the letter. The Signal’s PRA request asked for documents “pertaining to sexual harassment allegations if discipline had been imposed or if allegations were well-founded.” Since the Acosta investigation was ongoing, there obviously wouldn’t be any documents to release.
I further told the reporter that I’d met with the investigator just two days prior, relayed everything the investigator said about timing and confidentiality, and said that I couldn’t comment on the record about an ongoing investigation.
Still, the reporter printed a story about the non-story, with the provably false headline, “Rules Committee Fails to Substantiate Former Acosta Consultant’s Claims.”
The story included this retaliatory and defamatory statement:
“Acosta claimed the letter from the Rules Committee proves what he’s known ‘all along.’
‘I am glad that a thorough investigation has determined what I have known all along,’ Acosta said in a statement. ‘Workplace bullying and sexual harassment are serious problems, and I am working to address them in Sacramento.'”
The initial story also said simply that I had no comment, not that I couldn’t comment on an ongoing investigation. We all know that there is a huge difference between those two statements, and since the story was posted at the beginning of an election season it was particularly damaging to my career.
After heated phone and email exchanges with the reporter and editor over that weekend, in which they demanded that I prove there was an investigation occurring before they would change the story, the headline was changed and a statement from me added to the body of the story. The update wasn’t contained in their print edition and they didn’t call attention to the update on their website or social media sites, despite my request, so the impression that Acosta had been “cleared” lingered.
Around that time I learned from multiple sources that Acosta was telling my colleagues that the investigation was over and that he had been cleared. He also claimed that I told the investigator that I had made the whole thing up at the behest of my former business partner. That is categorically false, and is also pretty damn misogynistic. Does he believe I can’t think or act for myself?
I was also told that at that in early 2018 colleagues were being warned by Acosta and his surrogates against working with me. Those witnesses, fearing the types of retaliation I’d documented in an October 2017 RedState article (irony?) were unwilling to talk to the investigator.
It’s likely, and understandable, that these colleagues wanted to avoid encounters like the one I had with Hunt Braly, Acosta’s finance chair in 2016, just a couple of days after I called then-Congressman Knight to tell him about my experiences with Acosta. Only a couple of people knew I’d called Knight: Vanessa Wilk, and two Knight campaign staffers. Somehow Braly had been informed about the call and angrily confronted me, saying, “What the hell are you doing? You’re calling people’s employers now? You better stop that.” Two witnesses shared their recollections of the rest of the encounter with both me and the investigator.
“I noticed Hunt Braly say something I couldn’t make out to Jennifer. Jennifer responded in … a sarcastic tone. … Hunt was standing over Jennifer, blocking the exit from the row of seats. His face looked tight, angry, and aggressive. An appearance augmented by his positioning standing in front of and leaning towards Jennifer, who was sitting, and blocking her way out of the aisle as well. …
“Gradually Hunt’s voice began to rise with what I made out to be anger and extreme frustration….Hunt continued his loud aggression for several minutes, making me increasingly uncomfortable, feeling trapped by him bodily blocking the exit…At one point his voice dropped, which I assumed meant he had left…he was still there and talking quieter but with a far more aggressive and infuriated expression. He was half leaning into Jennifer and then, in an instant, he huffed and stomped away.”
“Hunt Braly came up … unprovoked, and flat out threatened you! That whole, ‘If you knew what’s good for you, you would sit down and shut up with your words’ was so unprofessional, especially coming from a lawyer.”
That email also notes the “horrible” things that were being said about me in Santa Clarita.
The investigator corroborated multiple instances of retaliatory behavior, defamation, and intimidation by Acosta and members of his campaign through oral and written witness statements.
The investigator was also able to determine that Acosta and another witness either misled or lied to the investigator about a couple of issues.
For example, Acosta told the investigator that on the night he and I met for drinks in DC, that it wasn’t late at night, that he had expected me to have my son with me, and that he was surprised when I showed up alone. However, I had gone to dinner with a colleague who lived in the area (and her sons) , and provided the investigator with screenshots of my communications with the friend that day arranging a time and place for dinner. I also provided a date and time stamped receipt from the restaurant, which was not in walking distance to the hotel and showed the purchase of a kid’s meal. Since I was talking business with the colleague, I’d saved the receipt for my taxes.
In addition, one witness claimed that the Instagram incident was just a big mistake, that an intern in SCV was building out Acosta’s social media presence on his new Assembly account and just following people in the community, and that the intern didn’t know who I was or that I had a pending defamation suit. The intern the witness named was someone I’d worked with on the Knight campaign and I sent the investigator a screenshot listing dozens of email exchanges with this intern. He absolutely knew who I was. That also doesn’t answer the question of why three photos of me were “liked” by his Assembly account weeks later.
Unfortunately, since the incidents the investigator corroborated occurred before Acosta took office the Rules Committee had no jurisdiction. In addition, they couldn’t substantiate the allegation that the Instagram incident was intentional intimidation or harassment, or that it was an improper use of Assembly resources.
I was informed that since the attorney was employed by the Assembly, I am not entitled to the “Confidential Investigation Report,” or even to know the names of the six witnesses interviewed.
Acosta’s retaliatory comments to the Signal in Feb. 2018 did fall under their jurisdiction, but they said they couldn’t substantiate that he had the intent to defame me or retaliate when he made the statement.
So, it’s true that the Assembly Rules Committee didn’t substantiate the allegation… that while an Assemblyman, Acosta attempted to intimidate, harass, and retaliate while using Assembly resources. Any claim that a thorough investigation proved that there was no sexual proposition, no degrading sexual statements, no defamation, no retaliation and no intimidation is absolutely false.
It’s time for Acosta’s continued retaliation against me, in the form of untrue and defamatory statements, to stop.
The Santa Clarita Valley Proclaimer’s opinion section does not represent the official opinions of Radio Free Santa Clarita, its board and its supporters.