Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Utah State University Professor Tom Peterson Pleads Not Guilty To Committing A Lewd Act In The Campus Steam Room, Next Hearing On March 17th
On March 4th, 2009, the Logan Herald-Journal reports that Utah State University professor Tom Peterson appeared in Logan Municipal Court on March 3rd and pleaded not guilty to the charge of committing a lewd act in the steam room located in the campus's Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) building. His pre-trial hearing is scheduled for March 17th, and he's being represented by attorney Shannon Demler.
As previously documented in this other post, Peterson is accused of engaging in homosexual activity with a man in the steam room on February 24th. A witness allegedly walked in on them and later told USU Police that Peterson was one of the people he’d seen, resulting in a citation for class-B misdemeanor lewdness. The second suspect is still being sought. But Shannon Demler said the defense team doesn’t yet know the scope of the incident, and hasn’t yet seen a copy of the police report. Demler indicates he could either press for a trial or a negotiated settlement.
University officials are not contemplating any sanctions against Peterson at this time, pending the outcome of the criminal case. Peterson was not amongst the 20 people just laid off by USU. And there's no reason to take disciplinary action against Peterson at this point, except maybe to put the steam room off limits to him as a public confidence-builder.
However, the Herald-Journal also discusses additional options under consideration by the university to discourage this sort of activity in the future. Not only is there now an actual allegation of lewd behavior, but there have also been several Craigslist.com ads listing the steam room as a meet-up location for sexual behavior. One short-term option is to cut back on the steam room’s hours so that the facility is only open when a sufficient number of staff are available to monitor it. The hours will be changed to 8 A.M. to 6 P.M. Monday through Friday, and 11 A.M. to 2 P.M. on Saturday. In addition, the university will hire a night manager to walk through the building and lock a back door that leads into the men’s locker room.
But administrators are also considering whether patrons should have to wear shorts or swimming suits when using the facility. Kevin Kobe, director of USU’s campus recreation, said he plans to bring up the issue at an April meeting of the committee that sets rules for the HPER building where the incident was reported.
The Salt Lake Crawler reveals that another influential voice has interjected herself into the debate. USU journalism instructor Nancy Williams reproduced the original article in this post, but raised a question of ethics. She implicitly questioned whether it was appropriate for the media to reveal Peterson's name at this stage of the investigation. In a comment, Emilie, who identifies herself as the city editor for the Herald-Journal, explains why they decided to cover the story and reveal Peterson's name. In summary, he's one of the highest paid and most recognizable individual at the [Cache] valley's largest employer accused of breaking a law in a very public place. The salient points:
-- A possible trend toward lewd activity in the steam room.
-- Tom Peterson is a longtime USU employee recognizable by thousands of people, and is paid $150,000 per year in public (TAXPAYER) dollars.
-- The HPER pool is frequently used by children and teenagers, in addition to students, staff and faculty.
Possible worst case scenario: The USU steam room has been the meet-up place with sexual activity for years. Best case scenario: This was an isolated incident — if it's true — and the Craig's List ads were just coincidental. In either event, it was deemed newsworthy.
Additional blog reaction is posted by Andee Leigh, one of Peterson's students. She doesn't seem too happy about Peterson's conduct. She does have a picture of one of the cutest babies I've ever seen posted on her blog.
The Logan Herald-Journal deserves a big hat tip for running with this story and placing themselves far ahead of the rest of the state's media on coverage. Both the Deseret News and the Ogden Standard-Examiner slept through the story. Likewise all broadcast outlets except KSL. And stung by the fact that they were upstaged by a Cache Valley newspaper, Utah's "Gray Lady", the Salt Lake Tribune, begrudgingly posted a story on March 2nd.