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Judge throws out libel claim against Chico State lecturer brought by embattled professor

California State University, Chico in Chico, Calif.
Jason Halley
California State University, Chico
California State University, Chico in Chico, Calif.

A state Superior Court judge in Butte County has thrown out a libel suit suspended Chico State Professor David Stachura brought against a colleague who revealed at a public forum in December that Stachura allegedly threatened gun violence on campus.

Judge Stephen E. Bensen ruled that biology lecturer Betsey Tamietti’s revelations “were a matter of public interest” in a tentative ruling he first issued late Tuesday and later made final.

Tamietti said at a Dec. 12 campus-wide forum that Stachura told her in late 2021 that he might shoot up the biology department, saying ‘“If I wanted you guys dead, you’d be dead. I am a doer. If I do go on a shooting spree, maybe I’ll pass your office. I am not sure.’”

Stachura has repeatedly claimed in legal papers and in testimony in a related restraining order case that Tamietti is lying and that he made no such threats. Stachura’s attorney, Kasra Parsad did not respond to a message seeking comment on the ruling.

“Although sometimes determining whether speech is a matter of public interest can be nebulous, that is not the case here,” Benson wrote in the ruling. “Obviously, matters concerning school safety are a public issue and have been a public issue for years. Clearly, this was a matter of public interest as far as those associated with (Chico State) were concerned.”

The ruling does not affect Stachuta’s estranged wife, Miranda King, who he has also sued for libel. King wrote in an application for a domestic violence restraining order in 2021 in the midst of the couple’s ongoing divorce that Stachura told her he had bought weapons and ammunition in 2020 with the intention of killing two colleagues who cooperated in a campus investigation that found he had a prohibited sexual affair with a student.

Stachura contends King – who made the statements to a judge in writing under the penalty of perjury – is lying.

In a court filing King’s lawyer, Michael J. Farley wrote that King did not libel Stachura because her statements were true, that they were made in the defense of others, and were protected speech under the First Amendment and other legal grounds. Farley did not respond to a message.

“The University is pleased the court found the lawsuit against Betsey Tamietti to be without merit,” Chico State spokesman Andrew Staples said. “She, along with other employees involved in this matter who have shared their experiences, continues to have our support.”

Stachura was suspended indefinitely after EdSource reported in December that he allegedly threatened to kill the two colleagues who cooperated in the investigation of his affair with the student. He denied the affair. When the matter became public, it roiled the campus of 13,000, with faculty and students blasting the university’s decision to keep the security threat secret. Provost Debra Larson, who approved light punishment of Stachura for the affair, resigned. Students and faculty have demanded increased security and other changes.

Documents filed by Tamietti’s lawyers in the libel case show the university began a new personnel investigation in March into whether Stachura “engaged in dishonesty” during the previous of investigation of his affair with the student, as well as sexual harassment and retaliation against the professors who cooperated in to the 2020 investigation.

A different judge is expected to rule in the workplace violence restraining order case no later than early October.

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.