News

Palo Alto teacher pleads not guilty to sex-abuse charges

Ohlone principal disputes 'inaccurate' police report

Michael Airo, an Ohlone Elementary School teacher charged in December with sexually abusing the daughter of a former girlfriend more than a decade ago, pleaded not guilty in court in Palo Alto on Tuesday.

Airo, 34, who taught fourth- and fifth-grade at Ohlone until he surrendered on Jan. 13, faces four felony counts relating to the alleged conduct: the continuous sexual abuse of a child under 14 - resident child molesting; and three instances of performing a lewd or lascivious act on a child by force, violence, duress, menace and fear. The child was a former female student in the district, now in her early 20s, who disclosed the alleged sexual abuse to her psychologist in 2014, according to a police report obtained by the Weekly.

Airo first met the girl when she was 8 years old and he was an aide at the after-school program she attended at El Carmelo Elementary School, according to the police report.

Airo appeared in court on Tuesday morning with his attorney, Michael Armstrong of Palo Alto firm Nolan, Armstrong & Barton, to enter a not-guilty plea. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Sept. 2.

Airo, a teacher at Ohlone since 2009, has been on unpaid administrative leave since January. The school board voted unanimously in February to initiate dismissal proceedings, which the district's attorneys are currently handling, according to Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Scott Bowers.

Meanwhile, Ohlone Principal Nicki Smith has sent a letter to Palo Alto police refuting portions of the police report describing the comments she made in a Jan. 8, 2015, interview and responding to community concerns raised about her failure to report the police visit to the district office.

Superintendent Max McGee said in a previous interview with the Weekly that he was "disturbed" neither he, nor anyone else at the Palo Alto school district office, as far as he knows, had been informed about the police interview.

The district only learned of the allegations when it received a "court-ordered booking" via fax in January from the California Department of Justice.

Smith maintains that when Palo Alto police officer Joel Hornung interviewed her about Airo in January 2015, he did not tell her any details about the investigation nor that it involved allegations of sexual misconduct.

"When I asked Officer Horning (sic) what the investigation was about, Officer Hornung told me he could not give me any details," Smith's letter, signed under penalty of perjury, stated. Smith also denied making a statement included in Hornung's report that she "would never imagine Suspect Airo touching or harming the children in anyway (sic)."

Smith, who was named principal of Ohlone in May 2014, also said she had no advance notice of the subject of the interview, though Hornung wrote in his report that "the meeting was scheduled to find out if there have been any complaints or suspicious instances" involving Airo.

Palo Alto police spokesman Lt. Zach Perron told the Weekly that police have added Smith's statement as a supplemental document to the original police report, which "will not be amended in any way."

He would not comment on the statement itself but said that, generally speaking, "Our officers and detectives prepare their written reports contemporaneously to interviews of witnesses, victims and suspects so that they can document what was said and done as accurately as possible."

"Cases often take months or occasionally even years to go to court, so documenting statements contemporaneously is very important," he added.

It is also not unusual to include relevant information after the fact so that the District Attorney's office, defense and the court have "full access to all pertinent information," Perron wrote in an email to the Weekly.

How much Smith knew about the case and at what point has become a sticking point for the district.

The district will be developing a policy to outline what steps should be taken in situations like this one, McGee said in February: "If there are police asking you about anything on your campus ... serious or not, someone from the district office — whether it's the chief academic officer or human resources director or me or the associate superintendent or the communications director — needs to know."

An attorney for Airo told Palo Alto police in September 2014 that Airo asserted he was innocent, but he did not provide a statement at the time, according to the police report.

McGee also told the Weekly previously that after learning of the allegations, the district sent Airo a letter "inviting him to appear to state his side of the case," which he did not do.

Detectives investigated Airo's work history with the school district and determined there was no indication that there were any additional victims, police said in January.

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Comments

26 people like this
Posted by Cakewalk
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 12, 2016 at 5:25 pm

Cakewalk is a registered user.

This young woman had no reason to lie; the whole thing came to light because she told her psychiatrist, who was required by law to report it.

Obviously, Airo is trying to save face as well as his career.


26 people like this
Posted by FreePress
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 12, 2016 at 9:09 pm

FreePress is a registered user.

Brian Banks spent 5 years in prison for a rape he did not commit, losing a scholarship to USC and potentially an NFL career in the process.

"Woman Who Falsely Accused Brian Banks of Rape Ordered to Pay $2.6M to pay the school district where she claimed the rape occurred"
Web Link

"Despite the falling away of media interest, families are still being torn apart when 'recovered' memories of childhood sexual abuse are introduced into the minds of vulnerable people"
Web Link

"Father Wins Suit in 'False Memory' Case"
Web Link

Given that it appears that the police report has already been tainted with false statements in order to entangle the school district into a law suit I would think that there are several million reasons why a person may lie about a rape that occurred ten years ago or that a therapist who might benefit by implanting false memories.

Airo could be guilty, I don't know. What I do know is that it is impossible to defend oneself against accusations like these even when DNA evidence is right.

"A California man seemingly was a solid suspect in the slaying of a millionaire at his Santa Clara County mansion when his DNA was found on the dead man’s fingernails.But prosecutors dismissed the murder case against Lukis Anderson, 26, this month after the homeless man was found to have an airtight alibi. At the time Raveesh “Ravi” Kumra was slain, Anderson was drunk and unconscious in a hospital bed, reports the San Francisco Chronicle."
Web Link





Like this comment
Posted by Guess Who!
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 13, 2016 at 11:03 pm

[Post removed.]


20 people like this
Posted by former teacher
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 14, 2016 at 5:45 am

Mr. Airo's plea aside, parents should file this and similar cases in their memory when they wonder why their child's middle school and high school teachers of male gender might sometimes come across as cold and uncaring.

It's in a male teacher's career interest to keep an extra distance from possible future accusers -- allegations will splash across the internet long before due process takes place.

And yes, it's a shame. Because what students sometimes need more than anything at school is some emotional connection from a stable adult.


5 people like this
Posted by blacklivesmatter
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jul 14, 2016 at 4:26 pm

blacklivesmatter is a registered user.

@Cakewalk and the 19 people who liked her post-
typical white upper class response to someone of dark skin charged with a crime, "guilty until proven innocent." The American way.


6 people like this
Posted by Mediterranee
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 15, 2016 at 12:46 pm

Michael Airo is not a person of color. He is a Portuguese-American.


5 people like this
Posted by student of mike
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 5, 2017 at 11:53 am

I dont know if you can read this but I miss you so much and I hope that you can live the rest of your life happy after this blows over. I also really wish I could just give you a hug





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