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Chico State lecturer details how she reported alleged gun threats by biology professor

Holt Hall at Chico State.
Thomas Peele
Holt Hall at Chico State.

A biology lecturer testified in Superior Court on Friday that she reported suspended Chico State professor David Stachura’s alleged 2021 threats of a campus shooting to the department dean nearly three months after they were made.

The lecturer, Betsey Tamietti, said on the stand that she was so shaken by what she said Stachura had allegedly told her that at first, she repeated it only to her husband. Her testimony echoed whatshe told a large campus meeting in December. That’s when she first revealed that Stachura had threatened a shooting in the biology department in October 2021 shortly after he returned to work after being investigated for an earlier threat to kill two colleagues who cooperated in a university investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against Stachura.

Tamietti testified that Stachura told her that if he “wanted people dead they’d be dead” and perhaps he’d skip her office if he shot up the department. She said she waited three months to report the remarks because “I was afraid of being on the record against him. I was terrified of him.” She said she told the dean of the College of Natural Sciences, David Hassenzahl, on Jan. 22, 2022. On Thursday, one of the professors Stachura allegedly threatened to kill, Kristen Gorman, testified she also told Hassenzahl of the threat after learning of it.

Tamietti testified that even after seeing Hassenzahl, she had second thoughts and considered retracting what she had reported. The university has not made public what was done with the information.

“They didn’t follow up on it,” Tamietti testified Friday

Hassenzahl, who was in court observing the proceedings, later said outside the courtroom, “I don’t dispute anything I have heard” in testimony. He declined to elaborate or say what he did with the information Tamietti and Gorman provided. Another professor who has since left the university told EdSource she also learned of the threat and reported it to Hassenzahl.

When Tamietti went public about the alleged threat in December, University President Gayle Hutchinson called the revelation new information. A university spokesperson, Andrew Staples, said Friday that when Hutchinson said the information was new, she meant it was new to her and other high-ranking school officials running the meeting where Tamietti revealed it, not new to the university workforce as a whole.

The California State University trustees have hired a San Diego human resources firm, HR Results, to conduct an investigation into how Chico State handled matters involving Stachura. Chico State’s academic senatecalled for the probein December. It is being led by attorney Nancy Aeling, according to a heavily redacted copy of the firm’s contract released by the CSU Chancellor’s Office. Because of the redaction, it is not clear if the contract specifically calls for the firm to investigate the alleged threat to Tamietti and what was done about it.

Stachura has denied making the alleged threat and sued Tamietti for libel. He has also sued his estranged wife.

Tamietti said in testimony Friday that after she revealed the alleged threat in December, she and her husband asked both the city of Chico and Chico State Police to post extra patrols on their street out of fears Stachura could retaliate. The patrols lasted several days, she said.

She said that after years of being his friend, she saw a different side of Stachura in 2020, one that showed an unraveling life. She said she took the threats to Gorman and professor Emily Fleming seriously because the events that Stachura’s estranged wife, Miranda King, described in court filings dovetailed with her observations.

Her testimony came on the third day of hearings on the university’s effort to win a permanent workplace violence restraining order against Stachura that would ban him from campus and require him to stay away from four employees and in some cases their family members.

Earlier Friday, Fleming testified she was at first reluctant to report Stachura’s affair with the student in 2020 because she feared blowback. But she said she had no choice because she had to fulfill her duty as a mandatory reporter of sexual abuse on campus. She had heard from others that Stachura had guns, and his behavior, she said, had been erratic.

Her husband, also a professor in the biology department, was worried they’d have to leave Chico if she made a report. “He said, ‘We won’t be able to be in this town anymore.’”

She described Stachura as directing “cold anger” at her once he was aware of the complaint. “He’d stare right through me.” Fleming also heard the sounds of “white-hot anger” coming from his office, where she heard him yelling.

She had a sabbatical scheduled and taught in Germany for a year, she said. The situation was so stressful before she left that she “slept for a week” upon arriving in Europe, she said.

She was there when she got an email from the lawyer representing Stachura’s estranged wife, Miranda King, telling her about the alleged threat to kill her, and she was afraid of returning to California.

“I started to look for a job to stay in Germany,” she said.

Fleming said she opted to join the restraining order because “I don’t feel as if I have any options at this point. I have been threatened from the very beginning because I was the idiot who turned him in.”

Stachura “knows where I live. He knows my routine. He knows what my son looks like and there are only so many schools in Chico.”

Her son, she said, has suffered stress from the situation and wanted to stay in Germany. He’s “very concerned because of the school shootings.”

The hearing is scheduled to resume before Judge Virginia Gingery on July 6.

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Thomas Peele is an investigative reporter at EdSource. He is a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter.
EdSource believes that access to a quality education is an important right of all children. We further believe that an informed, involved public is necessary to strengthen California’s schools for the benefit of the state’s children, its civic life, and its economy.