The Script

Dominic Caserta Resigns Hours Before Santa Clara City Council Censure, More Victims Come Forward

Santa+Clara+City+Council+members+begin+Tuesday%27s+meeting+without+Dominic+Caserta.
Santa Clara City Council members begin Tuesday's meeting without Dominic Caserta.

Santa Clara City Council members begin Tuesday's meeting without Dominic Caserta.

Liza Turchinsky

Liza Turchinsky

Santa Clara City Council members begin Tuesday's meeting without Dominic Caserta.

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Before the most recent Santa Clara City Council meeting, a blank name card rested in front of a vacant seat usually occupied by council member Dominic Caserta, who resigned his position earlier in the day. Just before the meeting began, city officials voted unanimously to accept his letter of resignation and formally pass a censure policy.

“We are going to take action,” said Mayor Lisa Gillmor after almost an hour of emotional testimonies from victims of Caserta’s alleged sexual misconduct. More than 10 official reports were filed with the Santa Clara Police Department by the Tuesday meeting, with at least two originating from the Foothill-De Anza Community College district.

Time for extensive public comment was allocated for the council meeting so that concerned citizens and victims of alleged sexual harassment and assault could vent their rage, pain, and frustration with Caserta and the institutions he works for. Officials overseeing the packed chambers implemented heightened security measures to accommodate the formidable number of attendees and members of the media and to manage the emotionally charged discussion. Law enforcement blocked all entrances to the council chambers as people strained to get inside. Those shut out were ushered to a cafeteria, where a livestream from the proceedings was broadcast over a large screen.

The open forum was intended to encourage the formulation of preventative measures so that any future misconduct by council members would not go unaddressed.

Several victims and witnesses came forward with shocking stories surrounding their interactions with Caserta. Tamara Pantic, a Santa Clara High School alumna, described the high school teacher’s alleged verbally abusive behavior in the classroom. “I made the error of pulling out my phone with the intent to record what was happening,” she recounted.

He loved to play favorites; he gave credits for no reason other than they pleased him somehow…success meant brown nosing him.”

— Tamara Pantic

Though she quickly realized the behavior was inappropriate and stopped, Caserta allegedly retaliated furiously. “He screamed at me called me disgusting and despicable…that I was one of his favorites, and now I was the lowest of the low…that I did not deserve to be in his classroom, and that I should be kicked out.” Pantic recalled the mental and emotional trauma the incident elicited for weeks afterwards. “I could not enter his classroom without taking antacids to prevent myself from vomiting.”

“He loved to play favorites; he gave credits for no reason other than they pleased him somehow…success meant brown nosing him,” she concluded.

Savannah Nunez, another high school alumna, also described her experience before the council. “He would always call me on my cell phone, call me nonstop, and leave voicemail after voicemail, show up at my work…he even showed up at my house one weekend and tried to talk to me, wondering why I wasn’t having any of his advances,” she said tearfully.

In an impassioned declaration, Nunez informed the council that she filed multiple formal complaints concerning his behavior in 2006 and 2007. “Then he started bullying me,” she went on, claiming that the former council member attempted to damage her academic reputation as punishment for her resistance.

Lydia Jungkind, a Foothill College student who was the initial subject, touched on the emotional trauma she faced as a result of Caserta’s alleged harassment. “Dominic Caserta always managed to take away from me what is most important to me, and that is my integrity,” she began. “I was afraid of him, and every time he touched me, every time he said something degrading about women, I felt insecure and helpless.”

“Mr. Caserta almost managed to take my voice away from me, and everything that defines me as a person.” She finished with a plea for justice: “I hope he has to face criminal charges, I hope he will be held accountable for what he did.”

Female members of the city council also shared their experiences with harassment while Caserta was employed. Several public speakers accused the council of neglecting to act sooner.

After almost two decades of reports and official complaints against Caserta, alleged victims say they finally felt that their voices were heard. However, outrage over what many feel is systemic inaction by authorities and institutions around sexual harassment did not go unaddressed. And although Caserta stepped down from his council duties and withdrew his candidacy, he is still teaching high school students and is employed at Foothill College as a political science instructor.

Nunez, who filed a report against Caserta 11 years ago as a minor, demanded an answer to her still unanswered questions. “Who’s going to be responsible for 16 years of harassing people, minors, stalking them…Who will be kept accountable?…And why is he still teaching?”

Edited May 18 at 8:35 p.m. A previous version of this article stated that the Santa Clara City Council voted to censure Dominic Caserta.

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Dominic Caserta Resigns Hours Before Santa Clara City Council Censure, More Victims Come Forward