Former Palo Alto teacher to stand trial for alleged sex abuse

Mike Airo faces four felony counts in case going back more than 10 years

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.


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29 people like this
Posted by Sad
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 3, 2016 at 10:14 am

Courage to the young girl for speaking out. All the best in healing from this.

The real trouble with sex abuse is that perpetrators groom their victims and also may start by making the abuse feel good, or even create deep confusion or personal crisis by making them feel like they asked for it. So the victim has difficulty speaking because they feel ashamed not just by the abuse but by that aspect of the abuse, that there may have been a part (by the perp's design) that made them feel good or that the perp could later claim they were complicit in. Manipulation is a huge part of power/abuse of all age groups.

Now that we've seen so many cases in recent years by teachers, only coming to light after so long (one wonders about others) maybe it's time we had the harder discussions about what kind of district employee culture we want to foster, that might help prevent and ferret out such behavior.

One thing for the reporter: this article is pretty explicit and should probably have a warning. [Portion removed. Moderator's note: Thanks, the story's been updated to clarify your point.]

This is very hard testimony to read, because it seems to me as a survivor (neighbor, not family) that the girl is still trying to come to terms with the worst part which is the perpetrator trying to enlist her own sense of guilt and shame by trying to make her feel complicit. Often that is some of the greatest lasting harm of abuse. Why does she have to be grilled about why she "allowed" it to happen? Other survivors often have no such background to point to. No child should be made to feel like they have to come up themselves with a reason they "let" themselves be sexually abused by an adult. I am as disturbed by the questions being asked here and the way this is being handled by the adults trying the case as I am the allegations of abuse.

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on Sep 4, 2016 at 5:06 pm

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29 people like this
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 5, 2016 at 8:03 am

This sick and disgusting matter calls into question two things that are not addressed here:

1. Why does the principal of Ohlone school, Nicki Smith, still have her job? Nicki Smith was visited by the police who were investigating Airo and she knew that they were investigating whether he could harm or touch a child inappropriately. That is in the POLICE REPORT. Yet she told no one and left him in the classroom for an additional year.

[MODERATOR'S NOTE: The article has been updated to include Smith's claim that she was not, in fact, told by police why Airo was under investigation.]

2. Why doesn't ANYONE FIRE SCOTT BOWERS? Scott is the person who supervises Nicki Smith. Scott should have immediately removed her and also ensured that the gossip and harmful talk to Airo's students at Ohlone conducted by Airo's mother and his supporters at the school was stopped. Children were told that Mr. Airo did nothing wrong. This is sick, sick, sick.

School Board, what are you doing? Where are you on this? Why is no one standing up for these children and for the child whom Airo so horrible abused?

This town is sick.

22 people like this
Posted by Thanks Judge Barnum
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 5, 2016 at 8:11 am

A big thank you to Michele Dauber and the Recall Persky campaign. If not for that, Judge Persky would have heard this preliminary hearing rather than Judge Barnum and Judge Persky probably would have dismissed the duress counts as Brock Turner's lawyer (who now represents Airo) wanted. [Portion removed.]

14 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 5, 2016 at 11:13 am

PAUSD has a problem with their male staff. PHS has had at least three complaints and removal of three male staff members who sexually abused students and/or other staff members. Two of the three were teachers and the other was a former principal. All white males and each received a pay off of $125,000.

But black and/or staff over 60 years of age are forced out of PAUSD. Their "offense?" Being non-white, female, and over 60. Double standard in PAUSD also applies to non-white students.

Institutional racism is very much alive & thriving in PAUSD.

13 people like this
Posted by solon
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 5, 2016 at 11:34 am

Retain Judge Persky.

He is honest and fair to both sides.
very difficult. when one side says, victims have no credibility, and other side says, accused have no rights or credibility.

[Portion removed]
an independent judiciary is essential. do not make judges read the editorials and newspapers to make sentencing decision.

The judge followed the probation report,written by a woman.
The probation recommendation was approved by the probation supervisor, a woman.
The judge prosecuted sex crimes as a DA.

The sentence-- including LIFETIME REGISTRATION AS A SEX OFFENDER -- is overall HARSH but fair and per law and precedent.

Prosecutors, former DAs, attorneys, and retired judges,many, SUPPORT Judge Persky and an independent judiciary.

Most thoughtful Palo Altans will too.

15 people like this
Posted by Tony Penski
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 5, 2016 at 12:21 pm

The entire Board of Education members must voluntarily resign and a Special Election held to elect new Board Members this week or early next week. It goes without saying that after the new members are chosen by the voters of Palo Alto, the new and improved Board must conduct an emergency session to vote to replace the current Superintendent immediately. The newly appointed Superintendent must then terminate the employment of all school administrative officials, including all principals and replace them with people who are trustworthy and highly qualified administrators. The two unions must have a strong voice on this very issue as well.. This may sound too simplistic and unrealistic but doable. If the British people no longer have trust and confidence on their leaders, then everyone must go. They elect/appoint a new Prime Minister and the new PM forms a new cabinet. Let's start with a clean slate. I worked for PAUSD in the HR Department from May 2002 through April 2003. I have to say, there are a lot of "me too"s in the District who are only interested in advocating for themselves and don't give a damn about our students. I know this for a fact because I, for one, am a very reluctant witness to a very unfortunate situation that happened in one of the high schools in the District. I contemplated filing a formal complaint with the Principal then but decided not to pursue for fear of retribution. Let us do it now before it is too late. The PAUSD system (sad to say, but true) is broken. It needs to be fixed fast. Let us not pretend everything is great here in PAUSD because it isn't. If you need facts, I am prepared to rock THE BIG BOAT.

15 people like this
Posted by Kaz
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 5, 2016 at 2:42 pm

Bravo to this young woman for being able to testify. I'm glad I didn't see the earlier version of this story, it's even more a violation of her privacy as she goes through the wretched process of a victim working towards justice.

How awful that she has to face convicted Stanford sex assaulter Brock Turner's defense attorney, Michael Armstrong. My stomach curdles at the thought. Persky should be grateful he's been assigned -- another local victim having to deal both with [portion removed] Persky and Armstrong would be just too much.

It disgusts me that the pro-Persky writer has jumped in to call attention away from the actual case at hand [portion removed]. Persky was merely a lawyer before being a judge, and there are other lawyers far better suited to replace him. The People lose nothing by getting rid of Persky. [Portion removed.]

It would be educational to compare the list of donors that Persky's posting in his courtroom (how could this even be legal??) to the outcomes of trials involving those lawyers and other case participants. Just posting the list in the courtroom should be enough cause to recall him [portion removed].

Thank you again, Michelle Dauber, for the impact you're already having in ensuring victims have a fair chance of dignity and proper outcome in our county.

5 people like this
Posted by Caroline V.
a resident of Portola Valley
on Sep 5, 2016 at 6:25 pm

Caroline V. is a registered user.

I thank Sue Dremann and Palo Alto weekly to publish this article. I hope more responsible citizen will come forward and hopefully more stories will be told.
Tony Penski and others are right - we have a "sick" culture in Silicon Valley. Our schools have the responsibility to provide safety for student, but they don't. California has the laws and requirements in place that prohibit sexual abuse, bullying, harassment, intimidation, retaliation and discrimination. California has the laws in place to warrant due process, compliance, and professional conduct; but unfortunately, these laws and requirements are not respected and nobody is held accountable.
Kathleen Carroll was a CTC lawyer who disclosed the wrongdoings at the California Teacher Credentialing department. Kathleen finally won her lawsuit against CTC. Please watch the you-tubes - it is just sickening what our government is promising and what it is doing behind our backs:
Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

I know what is going on behind the scene; not only because I experienced it and witnessed it myself. I helped 2 other students but did not fully know what was happening until I went through it myself. I was harassed, intimidated, discriminated and retaliated by SJSU professors with PHD's and licensed Occupational Therapists, because I disclosed the abusive and illegal conduct that is being promoted . There is a whole network that will collaborate to manipulate accreditation, ignore due process, ignore the law; all to cover up and protect their co-worker. Law enforcement is supposed to investigate our allegations, but the offices of District Attorney Rosen and District Attorney Wagstaffe refused to investigate my allegations. SJSU campus police filed my 46 page detailed report under SG1301140. Its disposition reads" forward for investigation and CAIT review" but nothing happened SJSU campus police chief Decena simply ignores my certified mail and SJSU compliance officer Julie Paisant requested that I not contact her.

This is happening in K-12. In the last 3 years I have met with many students, teachers, and administrators in the Bay Area who all report the same: students are blamed and administrators are convinced students lie or made up a story. Teachers and administrators who know what is going on are silenced. They know that if they speak up they will lose their job. Those who uphold their responsibilities suddenly disappear and move to a district were the rules and our laws are respected. It is absolutely disgusting.
Like in Arie Doe's case law enforcement did nothing. I am just surprised and do not understand why no other adult or relative came forward. As a mother and healthcare professional who specialized in Pediatric OT I urge every parent to please listen to their child, to ask questions, and to not ignore any changes in behavior because there are collaborative efforts to cover up abusive and illegal conduct in our schools.

To our elected and appointed officials please fulfill your responsibilities as described in our laws and our Constitution. You are supposed to withhold funding if our schools fail to comply and you are supposed to hold them accountable.
I thank Arie Doe for coming forward. I hope she can recuperate from this bad experience and I wish her many happy years to come.
I also thank Professor Dauber for her courage to initiate this conversation and this path for change. I hope more community members will be inspired to do the right thing and help us with this change.

12 people like this
Posted by Concerned Coach
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 7, 2016 at 10:16 am

Concerned Coach is a registered user.

In all honesty the story made me barf. I urge MEN of any age who have some weird propensity for doing what this man did - to seek help. Whether it is the sophomoric and horrific act exposing ones self or the cryptic heinous act of what this man did who was given a privilege of teaching students and thought to be held in the highest trust and regard in the land. I wonder if these men know that they are cowards and the lowest form of life on earth? In other countries they would have various parts of their anatomy removed.

5 people like this
Posted by Concerned Coach
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 7, 2016 at 11:18 am

Concerned Coach is a registered user.

This link is a doozy Web Link

18 people like this
Posted by Heartsick
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 7, 2016 at 12:31 pm

Heartsick is a registered user.

This poor youn woman had no intention of ratting out her father or her mother's boyfriend (Airo), but when she confessed the facts confidentially to her psychiatrist, the psychiatrist was legally bound to report the information to the proper authorities.

[Portion removed. See editor's note in story, above.]

4 people like this
Posted by Coach too
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 7, 2016 at 12:39 pm

So many stories of women teachers preying on our boys these days. Far more than in the past. What's going on? To complete the full message the other coach voiced, I urge WOMEN and MEN of any age who have some weird propensity for doing what this man did - to seek help.

8 people like this
Posted by Dorian-esque
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2016 at 5:20 pm

Dorian-esque is a registered user.

We would really like to find out why Nikki Smith has not been demoted or put on leave without pay for her part in all of this.

[Portion removed. See editor's note in story, above.]

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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