The woman whom former Ohlone Elementary School teacher Michael Airo allegedly abused as a child testified on Friday in Santa Clara County Superior Court in Palo Alto that she was unable to resist his alleged crimes because she had previously been abused by her father.
The now-24-year-old woman, who is being identified by the Weekly by the pseudonym Anne Doe, said during a preliminary hearing that her biological father had been an alcoholic who would act out violently toward her. That experience left her fearful, vulnerable and unable to fight back when Airo allegedly touched and kissed her in the shower, she told Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Barnum.
She said that because of her father, she became scared that another male in authority would harm her when he became upset at her.
"Once, I spilled something and he picked me up and pulled my arm out of the socket and I had to go to the ER," she recalled about her father.
Airo was her mother's boyfriend. He was charged with four felonies on Dec. 28, 2015, related to the alleged abuse.
Doe was 11 when Airo allegedly started abusing her. She told a therapist a decade later and the psychologist notified police, according to a police report.
Airo had repeatedly said he wanted to adopt her, including during discussions between herself and her mother, she said.
The alleged abuse continued through eighth grade. He would walk in when she was in the shower. When she tried to resist his actions, he allegedly told her that what he was doing was acceptable because he was her father, she testified.
Deputy District Attorney Chris Lamiero asked her to describe Airo's comments.
"'Why not? Why can't I?'
"He was redirecting it as a question back to me. ... He would say, 'I love you, you're my daughter. It's OK for me to do this. I'm your father.' And I would say, 'OK. I guess so,'" she said.
He would typically pick her up from after-school programs and also from dance lessons. In the late afternoon she would take a shower after her activities.
Airo was always fully dressed when he would come in to the bathroom, except when he used the bathroom to urinate, she said.
Although Airo never did anything violent to her, she was still afraid to make him angry.
"I was scared that I might be hurt. I didn't know how to say 'no,'" she said.
She did not tell her mother about the alleged abuse until after she turned 16. She didn't want to upset her or Airo and their relationship, she said. Doe was often alone because her sister didn't like Airo and would stay away at her boyfriend's place. But at one point the sister, who was eight years older, became suspicious. She told their mother she saw Airo coming out of the bathroom while the Doe was in the shower. They had a family conference, and Airo was told not to go into the bathroom anymore, Doe said.
Later in the relationship, Doe said she would see her mother and Airo argue.
"It creeped me out. I never wanted to start any arguments," she said.
After her mother and Airo broke up, he continued to see her.
"I remember sitting in a car, and he said he still wanted a relationship with me and he still wanted to adopt me," Doe said. But she felt that now she could use the split as a good excuse to get away from Airo.
"I told my mom that I didn't want to see him anymore," she said.
Airo faces one count of continuous sexual abuse to a minor under the age of 14, and three counts of lewd and lascivious acts with the use of force, violence, duress, menace, or fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury on the victim or another person. All are felonies. If convicted of all of the charges, he could face 18 to 38 years in prison.
Defense Attorney Michael Armstrong argued that the latter three counts should be dismissed because the evidence doesn't support the allegation that Airo used force or violence to commit the alleged acts.
But Deputy District Attorney Chris Lamiero told the court that the counts do apply under the theory of duress. There was a dynamic in the relationship whereby Airo was an authority figure. He had inserted into the relationship that he was a father figure and he knew it was a position of authority. He also used language that amounted to a claim of right that the victim could not refuse, Lamiero said.
Judge Barnum agreed, finding there was enough evidence for Airo to stand trial. Airo will return to court on Sept. 19. He is out of custody on $500,000 bail.
EDITOR'S NOTE In a July 12, 2016, news article, Weekly writer Elena Kadvany reported that Ohlone Principal Nicki Smith asserted she had no knowledge of the type of case for which Airo was under investigation. Here's an excerpt:
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.
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.