The investigation that led Darren Pitcher to resign as acting president of Spokane Falls Community College began with an anonymous letter. Five women signed it with an “X” in place of their names. A sixth woman added the words that have defined a movement to call out abuses by powerful men: “Me too.”
Copies of the two-page letter were sent to several Community Colleges of Spokane officials, including Chancellor Christine Johnson, on Dec. 27. The letter claimed that Pitcher had routinely flirted with female coworkers in their offices and in lewd text messages. It alluded to years-old rumors of an affair between him and a married subordinate. And it claimed that Pitcher once blocked a woman from leaving his office before exposing his genitals to her.
“All of these women have a fear of retaliation,” the letter concluded. “We expect a serious conversation to take place. This problem is systematic and ongoing. If actions are not taken these letters will continue to be sent and we will consider going to the local press.”
A formal complaint and a human resources investigation followed, and Pitcher, who spent nearly six years at SFCC, submitted his resignation letter on Feb. 26. The 50-year-old, who is married, has repeatedly denied having a sexual encounter with any of his coworkers, although he has acknowledged making “unprofessional” remarks in texts and instant messages sent via phones and computers belonging to the college.
On Monday, in response to requests by The Spokesman-Review and other news organizations, the Community Colleges of Spokane released nearly 1,500 pages of emails, interviews and other records related to the investigation, including the anonymous letter.
CCS redacted the names of alleged victims and witnesses to meet a temporary court order requested by attorney Nicholas Kovarik. The Spokesman-Review generally does not publish the names of victims or witnesses of sexual harassment or sexual assault without their permission, although the newspaper is arguing those names should be preserved in public records.
The records detail numerous claims of impropriety by Pitcher, such as “ogling” female coworkers and commenting on their physical appearance. The records also include transcripts of hundreds of messages that he exchanged with a female coworker over the course of several years, in which he commented on her breast implants and called her “sweet cheeks,” among other objectifying terms. Notes from the investigation indicate the woman looked back poorly on those exchanges when asked about them in mid-February.
“She needed him for his position to help her with her employment, but did not intend to have a relationship with him beyond informal friendship. Maybe (Pitcher) wanted more but she was successful at keeping it light,” a human resources investigator wrote in a summary of a phone call with the woman. The notes state that the woman “mentioned Harvey Weinstein and how this is similar.”
During a one-month billing cycle in 2015, Pitcher and yet another woman, identified in records as “Witness C,” exchanged more than 4,000 texts, the majority during work hours. According to a 27-page report summarizing the investigation, rumors abounded that the two had an extramarital affair, and then-SFCC President Janet Gullickson intervened because such a relationship would have violated workplace policies.
“When the volume of text exchanges between Witness C and Pitcher were brought to President Gullickson’s attention in late 2015 she confronted both employees, issued a reprimand and specifically directed Pitcher to adjust his behavior toward Witness C to avoid further questions,” the report states. “A year later Pitcher, in direct violation of this directive, arranged for he and Witness C to stay in the same hotel during a conference – while all other employees stayed at a different hotel. The two also worked together to erase the history of their instant messaging, admittedly to keep it from the public record.”
The woman who initiated the investigation, identified in records as “Complainant” and “Jane Doe No. 1,” claimed that she had consensual sex with Pitcher on two occasions, and that he rubbed her breast and exposed himself during encounters in his office. Pitcher has categorically denied her claims, and the report states that “there was no evidence substantiating a romantic or sexual relationship existed between Pitcher and Complainant – we simply do not know.”
The investigators – Human Resources Director Grace Leaf and Chief Administration Officer Greg Stevens – also suggested that neither Jane Doe No. 1 nor Pitcher was telling the whole truth. The report repeatedly states that she was concerned about her job security.
“While both presented as credible during their individual interviews, subsequent investigation and witness statements brought both individuals’ credibility and motives into question,” the report states.
When Jane Doe No. 1 first made a formal report to human resources in mid-January, Pitcher had been SFCC’s acting president for about seven months, and he was in the running to lead the college permanently.
According to the report, the woman said she was inspired to come forward by the nationwide #MeToo movement and “stated that she grew alarmed that a person such as Pitcher, whom she claims had created a culture of fear, kept advancing in the organization.”
In a phone call Monday, Pitcher questioned why the woman waited years to report what she claimed were examples of his “predatory” behavior.
“If it was so damaging, why did she wait so long to come forward?” Pitcher said Monday. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”
He also denied that he ever abused his authority. “I didn’t become president until July of 2017, and I think I only approved three hires in that time,” he said.
According to the report, Jane Doe No. 1 said Pitcher first “crossed the line” during a conference at a technical college in Lakewood, Washington, on Oct. 29, 2013, when he was SFCC’s vice president for student services. She said he was seated behind her during a morning presentation, and he sent her a text message saying he was “looking at your nice butt.”
She said she initially chose to ignore the incident and deleted the text, which her cell carrier was unable to recover, according to the report. Pitcher told investigators that such a comment would have been “out of character,” and so he denied making it.
“I just don’t remember it,” he said Monday. “We worked together. That’s all I can say.”
A few months later, in February 2014, Jane Doe No. 1 was distraught over the shooting death of an SFCC student-veteran, 23-year-old Jedadiah Zillmer, and she went to Pitcher’s office to brief him on the tragedy. She claimed that Pitcher hugged her at some point during the conversation.
“During the hug, she alleges Dr. Pitcher moved his hand to her breast and rubbed while commenting, ‘Oh, this feels different,’” the report states.
Investigators noted she did not tell any coworkers about the incident for more than two years. And the report states: “Witnesses consistently describe Complainant as dramatic and emotional, attention-seeking, someone to be taken ‘with a grain of salt’ who tends to ‘reflect and then amplify the emotions of others.’”
The report concludes that Pitcher’s behavior was often inappropriate and unbecoming of a college executive, and that he violated several workplace policies, such as misusing paid time and college resources for excessive personal conversations.
On Monday, Pitcher said he is eager to move on from SFCC.
“This has been traumatic,” he said. “I need to try to move on, and find a way to provide for my family – find a new job.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.