|Did Danielle Kurin tell the truth about her relationship with her ex-husband?|
Kurin is demanding $18 million in damages, and insisting that I delete all reporting I have done on the misconduct allegations against her. That reporting, consisting mainly of two blog reports which can be found here and here and a number of updates and commentaries on social media, uncovered documented evidence that she had retaliated against students who reported sexual harassment by her now ex-husband, Peruvian archaeologist Enmanuel Gomez Choque. That retaliation took place in the wake of a 2015 archaeological field school that Kurin and Gomez ran in and around Andahuaylas, Peru, where Gomez is based. In a 2016 Title IX proceeding, the couple was found to have committed misconduct based on the standard of a "preponderance of the evidence."
The university put Kurin on a three year administrative leave between 2016-2019, but did not fire her. Yet while she was on leave, during a 2018 field school Kurin directed in Peru, Gomez sexually assaulted two female students, one of them seriously enough to leave her badly traumatized. The matter was investigated by the Institute for Field Research, which had sponsored the field school; in October 2018, the IFR severed all association with Kurin. And last fall, as her administrative leave ended, Kurin went back to teaching at UCSB. During the three year leave, very few colleagues in UCSB's anthropology department were told why she had been on leave, or that a Title IX proceeding had been involved, until I first reported on it last February. Some did know, however, that Kurin had unsuccessfully sued the Regents of the University of California for a promotion she felt she was entitled to; she lost that case.
At the time of Kurin's return to work last fall, she told a number of colleagues that she had already divorced Gomez. She also claimed that she had broken off all association with the Peruvian archaeologist. In the lawsuit filed against me, she insisted that her only contact with Gomez over the past two years had been to resolve matters pertaining to the divorce (which was uncontested.) Kurin is set to begin her tenure process in September, which, if successful, would lead to her becoming a permanent faculty member by next spring. Kurin knows that creating the appearance that she has broken with her past behavior, and with Gomez, is essential for demonstrating that she is suitable for permanent status.
As her attorney put it in an article about the defamation case in the UCSB student paper, the Daily Nexus:
“Dr. Kurin is not a perfect individual. She made some mistakes a few years ago and has apologized for them, acknowledged them, took responsibility for her actions and completed a settlement with the university that everybody was happy with.”
But the records of Kurin's divorce proceedings, which are public documents and which I obtained from the California Superior Court for the County of Santa Barbara, indicate that her divorce from Gomez was not final until December 1, 2019, at least three months after she began telling colleagues that she was already divorced.
Moreover, while Kurin claimed in the defamation complaint and to colleagues that it was over between her and Gomez, witnesses put her not only in Andahuaylas, but in Gomez's house and, in the case of two witnesses, in his bedroom, on multiple occasions during 2019. I provide further details below. And I am happy that Kurin, through her attorney, has finally provided a statement to me about these matters. Earlier this year, I repeatedly asked her to comment for my reporting, in emails dated January 9, February 20, March 7, and March 11, to which she did not respond. (Kurin's lawyer, Dave Scher of the Hoyer Law Group, did comment earlier on the case, for the article cited above in the Daily Nexus.)
Questions for Danielle Kurin about her relationship with Enmanuel Gomez Choque
I was served with the defamation suit in late June, and for a short period earlier this month the parties explored the possibility of an early settlement. Federal Rules of Evidence 408 forbid me from discussing the details, but I retained an attorney for this purpose using funds kindly donated by contributors to my GoFundMe legal defense site. For now, at least, I am representing myself in the lawsuit, which means I am in the odd situation of wearing two hats: That of reporter, and that of lawyer (as the old joke goes, I may have a fool for a client, although I hope not.) As a #MeToo reporter, I have tried to follow the long and proud tradition of advocacy journalism: While my reporting must be rigorous and accurate, I am not required to be neutral about whether sexual misconduct is acceptable (I explain my work in a recent interview with the good folks at the Fieldwork Initiative.)
This case raises lots of important questions about freedom of the press, the First Amendment, and the use and abuse of defamation suits, which I will explore in future posts. For now, I will focus on the immediate question of whether Danielle Kurin has told the truth about her relationship with Gomez.
Here are the questions I put to Scher about these matters, followed by his responses, which I have agreed to post here unedited and in full:
Dear Mr. Scher,
Now my comments on these questions and answers, based on my reporting:
1. Scher does not actually answer my questions about what Kurin told her colleagues about the timing of her divorce and why she reportedly said that she was already divorced when she returned to teaching in Fall 2019. He does confirm that the divorce was finalized last December, however. In the defamation complaint, Kurin tells the court that she filed for divorce "soon after" the IFR concluded its investigation of Gomez's assaults on female students and allegations by the students that Kurin tried to cover up these events. That investigation, which led to IFR severing its connections with Kurin, wrapped up in October 2018. Kurin filed for divorce on May 9, 2019, nearly seven months later. Whether seven months fits the definition of "soon after" could well be an issue in this litigation, but I will let it lie for now.
2. Scher maintains that Kurin's divorce attorney used the mailing address of her father in Falls Church, Virginia "for service purposes only" and that Gomez was not physically present there, indeed that he had not been in the United States since the summer of 2016. He does not explain why the divorce papers were sent to Falls Church rather than straight down to Peru or wherever else Gomez was at the time, since Kurin had told the divorce court that the couple separated in August 2018 (ie, right after the sexual assaults at the 2018 field school.)
Gomez was served with several documents pertaining to the divorce, and, the records show, accepted service each time of documents that were mailed to the Falls Church address. It is certainly possible that the documents were sent first to Falls Church and then that someone--Danielle Kurin, her father Richard, or her mother--sent them to Gomez in Peru. But in that case the service would have been carried out not by Kurin's divorce lawyer and his firm, as the records indicate, but by Kurin and/or her family. And what happened next? Did Gomez sign the documents and send them back to Falls Church, or did he send them directly back to Kurin's lawyer, or to the court?
There might be little issue here were it not for the following.
3. Scher vehemently denies that a relationship continued between Kurin and Gomez during 2019, and she denies it as well in the defamation complaint, signed under penalty of perjury. Scher states that Kurin went to Peru in August of last year, but only to gather her belongings, and that she has not seen Gomez nor spoken to him since.
The problem with that statement is that I have spoken with three sources, direct witnesses, who put Kurin in Andahuaylas on more than one occasion last year. Two of these sources observed Kurin not only living with Gomez in his family home in the city, but actually sleeping with him in his bedroom. The third source, a visitor who did not stay long, nevertheless observed them together. The first two sources fear retaliation from Kurin for talking to me, and thus I will not only not name them but also not specify when they were in Andahuaylas. The third source does not fear retaliation but nevertheless does not want to be publicly involved. (To make things clear, I have known since January that Kurin was staying in the Andahuaylas house last year despite telling colleagues that they were divorced.)
(On the issue of retaliation: Kurin may try to make guesses about who the sources are, although she would be likely to be wrong. However, any attempts she makes to retaliate against colleagues she thinks might be sources will be reported in this space immediately.)
If these witnesses are telling the truth, then obviously Kurin is not.
I've talked to many colleagues about Kurin's relationship with Gomez. Kurin married Gomez on February 9, 2016, many months after he sexually harassed students at the 2015 field school. She defended him against those charges by calling the complainants "racist gringas" on Facebook and then retaliated against them. The marriage also took place on the eve of the Title IX proceedings against the couple, in which both were found to have committed misconduct. Kurin continued her marriage to Gomez in 2018, when she was on administrative leave for the earlier misconduct and when he sexually assaulted two students at her field school that year. Only in May 2019 did she finally file for divorce, and yet the evidence shows that this did not end the couple's relationship.
Kurin's colleagues say that the couple has a definite bond and the relationship is real. Nevertheless, Gomez's home in Andahuaylas, and other locations owned by his family, serve as key infrastructure for Kurin's archaeological work in the region. Gomez's family provides students at the field school with their meals, and perform other support services. Thus the relationship has also been key to Kurin's ability to perform the research on which she has built her career and hopes to get tenure from UCSB.
The matters discussed above will obviously play an important role in the lawsuit against me, in which I am accused of making false statements in my reporting, and, possibly, in Kurin's tenure process. I will say nothing more about them now, but I expect to be back soon with more thoughts about the defamation suit and the important First Amendment issues it raises. You can also look for regular updates about the case on my GoFundMe site.
Update: Reply to the above from Danielle Kurin's attorney, Dave Scher
(I have no comment of my own to make on this, other than that I have always been happy for Kurin to have input into my reporting, and that I make no "fortune" with this blog--I do my #MeToo reporting for free. As for the immigration process, my wife had to wait 19 months to get her green card, during which we were separated most of the time, thanks to Trump's immigration policies.)
- Mr. Gomez is not some powerful or cosmopolitan Peruvian. Rather he is an indigenous, first-language Quechua speaker who has lived his whole life in one of the poorest regions in the Western Hemisphere.
- Mr. Gomez has never been credibly accused or investigated for, and has never been convicted of, rape anywhere (the post by “Anonymous” that Mr. Balter has allowed to be posted on his blog containing the outrageous statement to the contrary is easily proved as false and severely damages Mr. Gomez – this defamation of Mr. Gomez is a crime under Peruvian law. As Mr. Balter’s readers know, he is already under attack in Peru for making false statements about Mr. Castillo, which will likely lead to his indictment as an international criminal).
- Mr. Gomez and his entire family are extremely poor, and were routinely targeted and tortured by the Peruvian government, as well as by the Shining Path terrorist group. They describe Mr. Balter's defamatory attacks on them as another extrajudicial attempt to terrorize and intimidate them. Mr. Gomez and his family unfortunately do not have the financial means to defend themselves against frequent, frivolous, and racially--tinged attacks by privileged white Americans.
- Mr. Gomez and his entire family - men, women and children, multiple generations - sleep all together in one modest adobe-and concrete abode– what Mr. Balter calls the “family home”.
- Mr. Gomez and his entire family sleep on the dirt and slate floors of the actual “family home” (a one room hut) bolstered by some threading to support them (the “bed”), threading made by the family.
- Mr. Balter doesn't seem to realize that the process of getting a Visa to travel to/live in the US as a foreign citizen is a complicated, years-long process. As a white man who can choose to live in Paris or the US on a whim, he obviously has no idea of what the immigration process entails, especially for ethnic minorities from the global south. To receive his K1 Visa, US immigration authorities did an extensive background check on Mr. Gomez, where they confirmed that he has never been accused, investigated or convicted of any misconduct of any kind, sexual or otherwise. That Mr. Balter thinks his investigative powers surpass those of the US Government is just laughable.
Update July 23: The duration of Kurin's relationship with Gomez
For the reasons spelled out above, and in the defamation complaint filed against me by Danielle Kurin, the circumstances of her relationship with her ex-husband, Enmanuel Gomez Choque, have unfortunately become relevant to the lawsuit and to determining the truth. I say "unfortunately" because despite Kurin's false suggestions in the complaint that I have some kind of abnormal interest in people's sex lives, Kurin's defense of Gomez in the face of sexual misconduct allegations is very much at issue here. In the complaint filed with the federal court, Kurin refers to a "brief" marriage to Gomez between 2016-2019. However, in double checking with sources who have known the couple for a long time, the relationship (including living together when Kurin is in Peru) began as early as 2009.
Because I believe that this is fundamentally a First Amendment case and not a real defamation case (I have never defamed her, which would require that my assertions be knowingly false), I intend to make the details of the case as public as legally allowed. All documents filed with the court are public, of course, unless the judge decides to seal some of them; normally routine filings such as the complaint, my answer to it, and various motions would be public.
In that spirit, I am including below the Litigation Hold Notice that I have sent to Dave Scher, Kurin's attorney. This notice, which requires any evidence that could be relevant to the lawsuit to be preserved, was included with the complaint that Scher sent to me, and obligates me to preserve and retain any evidence I have. Below is the Litigation Hold Notice I have sent to Scher today. It might give readers of this blog an idea of what kinds of issues may come up in legal discovery as the litigation proceeds.
Dear Mr. Scher,
Continued updates, July 23.
In her lengthy attack on me above, Danielle Kurin makes a brief reference to Luis Jaime Castillo Butters, a powerful Peruvian archaeologist who has also threatened me with legal action for writing about accusations against him. For anyone who does not know what that is all about, you can find the latest post and back-linking here. In the complaint in the defamation suit, Kurin also comes to the defense of several sexual predators (Brian Richmond, David Yesner, Ran Boytner, etc.) who have lost their positions (or in Yesner's case, denied emeritus status) as a result of their misconduct. In the complaint, Kurin tries to portray these confirmed abusers as my victims.
Who are the "cyberbullies"?
As one of my Twitter followers put it, this case is getting "weirder and weirder." I have to agree. I asked Kurin to respond to the allegations against her I have reported, and via her attorney, Dave Scher, she did so. I agreed to post whatever she said uncut and unedited, and you can see the result above. I am obviously not a defamation attorney, but neither is Scher (he often represents whistleblowers, which is good), and I wonder if Kurin's comments--which are blatant lies, very scurrilous, and inflammatory--might not meet the definition of defamation. Fortunately for her and her lawyer, journalists are normally loathe to file defamation suits against anyone, let alone the subjects of their reporting.
Nevertheless, Scher has developed a habit of posting things on Twitter about the case and then very quickly deleting them. I'm not sure what his motivation is, but he must realize that I have a lot of followers who quickly screenshot anything they think might disappear. Thus we have this from yesterday:
Is there any way to interpret this other than yet another attempt to intimidate me, dare I say to bully me, into deleting and renouncing all my reporting about Kurin, which is what they have demanded? That's the relief they seek, in addition to $18 million in damages. But it's as if they want to get the relief they seek simply by filing a defamation suit, without going through the long and difficult process of litigating the issues and having a jury (they have demanded a jury trial) decide whether I defamed Kurin or not. Until that day comes (I am confident that it will never come), I am an equal party in this lawsuit, not someone to be bullied as they have accused me of doing not just to Kurin but to others.
In any case it should be clear by now that they will not win the lawsuit that way. They will have to fight fair and square and try to make their case in court. In my view, while Kurin may have defamed me, I have not defamed her--because everything I have published about her is based on evidence, or is opinion that I am entitled to express under the First Amendment.
I don't want anyone to get the idea I think this is fun. It is miserable, dirty, depressing, and hard work, for both Kurin and for me. But Kurin and her attorney know how to put an end to it, and I hope they will soon.
Update: Did Kurin's marijuana smoking and isolation from the students of her field schools contribute to her husband's sexual abuse of students?
Kurin accuses me of "actual malice" in my reporting against her, and wanting to destroy her career. If I were found to have falsely reported about her, it would be necessary to find me at least to have engaged in reckless disregard of the truth for her to win the case. Simple mistakes or inadvertent errors are not good enough. Even better, if a plaintiff in a defamation suit can show that the defendant showed actual malice--in essence, that they were really out to get them--a defamation suit could be won.
In reality, I have withheld some of the most serious accusations against Kurin, and I must admit I do not know why. Perhaps a simple feeling of charity and sympathy for someone I believe to harbor serious character flaws, or just not wanting to be seen to be driving the knife in--after all, what I have called her "enabling" (a word she vehemently rejects) of Gomez's sexual abuse would seem to be bad enough.
But I think under the current circumstances I will have to stop being so charitable. Here are two quotes from students, the first from a student at her 2017 field school, which I have never discussed before, and the second from a different student at her 2018 field school, where Gomez sexually assaulted and traumatized a student.
2017: "The 2017 IFR field school in Andahuaylas was a bit of a mess. Danielle had her sister there (who is a lawyer) to keep her in check. Danielle hid away in her room most of the time smoking weed, which the students could smell. She also barely ever showered, which the students also noticed.
The 2018 student might be wrong that recreational use of small amounts of marijuana is illegal in Peru, although I have not yet researched it extensively. The real question, however, is whether it was responsible for Kurin to use it and offer it to students, if these testimonies are correct. Personally I am in favor of legalizing marijuana, but that is not the issue here.
A letter to Danielle from a former, and hopefully future, friend.
The follow Anonymous comment was posted below, but I am going to move it up here as well because it is passionate, full of hopes for Danielle and her future, but eloquently urges her to make a real break with her past misconduct and behavior that has been very hurtful to others. I hope she will take this message to heart.
It is not too late to turn your life around. I was shocked and disappointed when I first heard about the things you did, and this was before Balter’s reporting. I was shocked because over the years, I thought I saw more good in you than bad. You were (are?) humorous, passionate, and hard-working. You’ve made major mistakes and have doubled down on them in the past years. All you need to do is to own up to your mistakes, publicly apologize to everyone personally and publicly, make reparations to them, and drop this lawsuit that you cannot win. You might think that doubling down, as you had done over the past decade, is the only way to save your reputation and career. This is not true. I think you underestimate the graciousness of others. You can still have a future in your life-long passion (maybe in the museum world?) if you make amends publicly from a place of humility. I know you must be going through lots of terrible emotions right now; the latest update about your 2017 and 2018 activities shows the emotional toll the consequences that your own actions have taken on you. But also know that what you are currently feeling is probably worse than what you put many people through. Please try to think about that. Please let your better angels conquer your ego and pride, and see the damage you’ve done and make amends. It’s not too late to start anew.
A former, and hopefully future, friend"
A correction to my above comment. "But also know that what you are currently feeling is probably worse than what you put many people through." should read "But also know that what you are currently feeling is similar to the rage and anguish those you have bullied and retaliated against have felt and are still feeling, and they probably feel it worse."
Update July 24: Have Kurin's attempts to retaliate against witnesses already begun?
Despite Kurin's attacks on the sources for my reporting, in her words above, as either liars or mistaken, she has a very long reputation for retaliating or attempting to retaliate against witnesses and survivors of her ex-husband's abuses. (She was found to have done that in a 2016 Title IX that is a key document of proof in this case.) I am already getting indications that she is actively hunting for the sources of my updated reporting. To put it simply, Kurin just does not seem to be able to help herself, and this is why so many students and faculty think she is, as one of them put it to me, "a danger to students."
Since any of my sources could potentially be witnesses in this lawsuit, it appears that Kurin is attempting to intimidate witnesses and tamper with their potential testimony.
Nevertheless, her attorney, Dave Scher, has publicly pledged that he and his client will not go after my sources, in a June 23 Tweet since deleted but seen by many. They should be held to that publicly, and I intend to hold them to that in this litigation.
Update 9:30 am: An interchange with Danielle Kurin's attorney Dave Scher.
I wrote to Mr. Scher this morning asking him to warn his client about intimidation of witnesses. Here is his reply and my response to that. The good news is that he has reiterated his pledge not to go after my sources, and of course this representation will bind him during this lawsuit.
Update July 29, 2020: Some insights into Kurin's association with a sexual predator, and her penchant for bullying.
Over the many months that I have been reporting on Danielle Kurin and her former husband, Enmanuel Gomez Choque, I have talked to dozens of people who have known her over the years, going back to her graduate student days at Vanderbilt University. She is apparently a very contradictory character, charismatic and capable of being "charming, funny, and friendly," as one colleague put it, adding that "I can see why people are easily bamboozled by her."
One archaeologist who has known Kurin for many years recounts spending some time with her in Peru, a number of years ago. This person, whom I will call Archaeologist A, recalls two "warning signs" of the behavior that would later lead to two misconduct investigations involving her, the 2016 Title IX against her and Gomez and the 2018 investigation of sexual assaults at her field school in Peru by the Institute for Field Research.
"We hung out a few times in Ayacucho, where she and Enmanuel were working from. She complained...about his sexual jokes to her. For example, during survey they were bitten by all kinds of insects. He asked her if she could put anti-itch/bit cream on his private parts. I was baffled when she later married him."
Archaeologist A recalls another episode that provided insights into Kurin's penchant for bullying others (I have reported that she has often invoked the name of her father, a powerful official at the Smithsonian Institution, when threatening retaliation against the careers of others.
"She took me and one of her students out on an excursion to a nearby...archaeological site. The entrance fee was less than $3.00. Instead of buying a ticket, she told us to jump the low fence. A guardian of the site [an indigenous Peruvian] approached us soon after and asked us to pay for our entrance tickets. Danielle's comportment changed dramatically. She started to intimidate the guardian by saying how dare he, and if he knows who she is? She started name dropping well known Peruvian archaeologists. I felt really embarrassed and handed the guardian my [fee], which finally made Danielle relent."
|Archaeologist A to a colleague, early last year|