|UCSB students aid in the search for missing mudslide victim Jack Cantin|
Earlier this month, University of California, Santa Barbara anthropology professor Danielle Kurin, whose long history of misconduct and abuses I have been covering for the past two years, abruptly resigned from the tenured position she had only been awarded last August. Given widespread opinion among her colleagues at UCSB and in the wider archaeology and anthropology communities that this history made her a danger to students, Kurin had to go to extraordinary lengths to get the university to give her tenure--including suing me for defamation for my fully accurate and well documented reporting on her misconduct.
Last July, Kurin announced that she had discovered with "90% certainty" the remains of missing teenager Jack Cantin, a victim of the 2018 Montecito, California mudslide, which took the lives of 23 victims. Many other experts were highly skeptical of this claim, and thought it equally likely that she was exploiting the grief of the teenager's family in her efforts to get tenure (which she did, the following month.) But the Santa Barbara Sheriff and its coroner's office have not yet confirmed Kurin's identification; their investigation is now in its sixth month, and the department has continued to decline to comment on its status.
Moreover, numerous anthropologists and archaeologists have told me, Kurin has violated California law, as well as the ethics of her profession, in her handling of the remains, most importantly by not informing authorities of at least some of the finds. This is a particularly sensitive issue in the Santa Barbara area, which shelters many burials of Chumash Native Americans. As an archaeologist, Kurin had to have known this.
This past week I discovered, mostly by accident, that Jack's mother, Kim Cantin, had quietly filed a lawsuit against the Sheriff and Santa Barbara County, claiming that her rights to bury her son were being violated by the withholding of the very fragmentary remains. In the lawsuit, Kim and her attorneys relied almost entirely on the supposed expertise of Kurin, whom they judged more competent in the quest to identify the remains--even though Kurin had not performed any of the requisite tests for identifying unknown bones, including DNA testing, and Kurin is not a qualified forensic anthropologist. The full text of the Complaint can be accessed here. The lawsuit had not become public because Kim Cantin and her attorneys soon entered into talks with the Sheriff about the matter. While a judge was assigned to the case, Cantin and her attorneys did not pursue it as those discussions continued, her lead attorney told me.
I am not going to say much more now, because a local Santa Barbara publication will be running a story on the lawsuit very shortly. Having spent months trying to interest the local press in their own local story, I do not want to steal too much of their thunder. But one of the most remarkable and damning revelations in the Complaint is that Kurin apparently tried to pass off one of her own students as a "peer reviewer" of her own analysis of the remains. To avoid Google searches linking the student with Kurin, I will call her "VB" here, although she is named in the Complaint which is publicly available; thus I have not redacted it.
VB is not, as the Complaint describes her--most likely based on what Kurin told Kim Cantin and her lawyers--a doctorate at Washington State University. Rather, she is a graduate student, on whose committee Kurin sits along with other researchers. Kurin is on her committee because VB's PhD thesis is based on materials from Kurin's archaeological sites in Peru. Whatever VB's expertise may be--and graduate students often know as much or more than their professors--she is not a trained forensic anthropologist, and Kurin's use of her as a peer reviewer represents an obvious conflict of interest at the very least. It also appears to represent an ethical breach of great magnitude, especially if she used VB for this purpose in an attempt to convince both Kim Cantin and the Sheriff's office that her analysis had been confirmed by other experts.
(Indeed, some months ago, the Sheriff's spokesperson, Raquel Zick, told me that their investigation had been delayed while they waited for Kurin to have her report "peer reviewed." Why Kurin could not, or did not, ask a qualified forensic anthropologist to do that review is one of the outstanding questions in this very sordid drama.)
I will have much more to say about all this once the local publication runs its story, including some commentary on why Kurin may have resigned and the very important role of powerful enablers in allowing Kurin to continue to abuse students for so many years.
Update: While waiting for the local Santa Barbara media to publish on this, I will post some additional comments. One is that there is a strange discrepancy between what the Complaint says and what Kurin, Kim Cantin, and the UCSB students told the news media last July when they publicly announced their claim that they had found Jack Cantin's remains. All of them told the local media that they had begun finding human remains during Memorial Day weekend, which began on Friday May 28 (that's also the day that Kurin scuttled settlement talks she was engaged in with me and my lawyers.) But the lawsuit says that the first remains were found on May 10. I have also noted before that the public announcement was made on July 22, exactly one week after the federal judge in the lawsuit approved the agreement between Kurin and I and dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice. All of this requires explanation.
* * *
January 17, 2022: Full update, truth-telling, nothing left out edition.
As I noted above, I have been waiting to publish this full story until a local Santa Barbara publication ran its story, as appreciation for the local media finally recognizing that it had ignored a major scandal in its midst: The apparent cynical exploitation of grieving mother Kim Cantin by Danielle Kurin in her quest for tenure at UCSB despite her long history of misconduct. That publication is the Santa Barbara Independent, whose reporter has been investigating the Montecito mudslide story since last October, when I brought it to his attention.
That story almost ran in early January, but was held back for reasons I will not discuss here. Then, on January 10, I discovered via a Google search that Kim Cantin had quietly filed a lawsuit in federal court against Santa Barbara County and its Sheriff-Coroner, William Brown, seeking the return of human remains she believes belong to her son Jack, who went missing after the devastating Montecito mudslide of 2018, which killed 23 people (also missing is two year old Lydia Sutthithepa; more about her later.)
I shared this information with the Independent reporter, whose interest had already been rekindled by Kurin's abrupt resignation of her tenured position. The Montecito mudslide, and the purported finding of Jack's remains, were both major events for the greater Santa Barbara community, and word about finding Jack was picked up by national media. Out of appreciation for the Independent's willingness to do a story about all this, and its assurance that it would run its story no later than last Friday, I held off publishing my own report, willing to allow my colleague in Santa Barbara to have the scoop. But when it became clear that his story would not run on Friday, I published the brief placeholder report above.
Today, Monday, the Independent's story has still not run, with no explanation about the delay--or, and I hope this is not the case, killing of the story, possibly out of fear of a lawsuit from Kurin (the huge role that fear of being sued by the litigious Danielle Kurin has played in this long saga will be explored below.)
[Update: The story has now run, please see below.]
If the publication finally does run its story, I will celebrate that here, with commentary of my own. In the meantime, however, it is time to explore, in one place, the many facets of the sordid Kurin drama, a story of a toxic personality allowed to run mostly free for the past eight years. In her wake, many victims and survivors who are still suffering the consequences of her abuses.
I will say a number of things here that I have not said before, and provide links to past stories for the guidance of readers who have not kept up with this complicated story. As might be imagined, the sourcing is very sensitive on some of what I will have to say, which will explain a certain vagueness in attribution in some parts. But as always in my reporting, all statements below are based on direct witnesses and participants in the events, multiply sourced and corroborated in all instances--except where I engage in speculation, which I will make clear.
Why did Danielle Kurin get tenure at UCSB, and why did she abruptly resign?
Danielle Kurin received her PhD from Vanderbilt University in 2012 and began teaching at UCSB as a visiting professor in 2013. (See also here.) In fall 2014, she was appointed to a tenure track assistant professor position in the university's anthropology department. Even at the time, fairly or unfairly, questions circulated in the anthropology and archaeology communities about whether she was the most qualified candidate; again, correctly or not, it was widely assumed that Kurin's father, anthropologist Richard Kurin--a powerful American scientist and major official at the Smithsonian Institution--had either used his influence to help her get hired, or that Kurin had used his name and reputation to enhance her own reputation. I mention Richard Kurin here because of the outsized role he would end up playing in the Kurin saga.
During her visiting professorship in 2013, Kurin appeared to be on her best behavior, and favorably impressed many members of the anthropology faculty. But from the very first year of Kurin's tenure track position, the UCSB administration began receiving reports that she was bullying students in her osteology and other classes and abusing them in various ways. These reports continued into 2015 and 2016.
In September 2015, UCSB received word that Kurin's partner and later husband, Peruvian archaeologist Enmanuel Gomez Choque, had sexually harassed students at Kurin's field school in Peru, and a Title IX investigation was launched. Kurin was subsequently put on administrative leave pending the outcome. That investigation concluded that Gomez had more likely than not sexually harassed students, and that Kurin more likely than not had retaliated against students who had reported that harassment--a very serious violation of her responsibilities as a faculty member. As a result, the findings were referred to UCSB's Charges Committee for adjudication. The Committee found the following (excerpted from the Letter of Censure issued to Kurin on February 28, 2018:)
Dear Professor Kirin:
As you know, the campus Charges Committee found probable cause for multiple violations of Part 11,
Sections A & C, of the faculty Code of Conduct, including explicit and implicit threats against a
complainant that would be interpreted by any reasonable recipient as harassing and retaliatory; and
additional acts of harassment and threats of retaliation€ occurring in the time period after the Title IX &
Sexual Harassment Policy Compliance Office specifically reiterated the need for confidentiality and
cautioned against retaliation. You have received a copy of the Charges Committee report, as well as the
Title IX report, and no* acknowledge that, as described in the Charges and in the Title IX report, there
were instances in whici your conduct fell below your own standards and those embodied in the Faculty
Code of Conduct. Attached to this letter of censure are a copy of the "Harrison/Gomez/Kuhn
Investigative Report (#2017470) ("Title IX Report") and a copy of the "CONFIDENT1AL-REFERRAL
OF COMPLAINT TO COMMITTEE ON PRIVILEGE AND TENURE AND PROPOSED
DISCIPLINARY SANIbTION" (the "Charges") that I filed with the Santa Barbara Division's Committee
on Privilege and Tenure on May 22, 2017.
But Kurin was not fired, which was certainly an option the university had in this situation. Instead, her administrative leave was extended to a total of three full years, during which she received most of her salary. But the UCSB administration never told the anthropology faculty why she was on leave, except for consecutive department chairs who were sworn to secrecy. Despite rumors about retaliation against students, neither faculty nor students were told anything officially. In maintaining secrecy, the administration, and most notably UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang and Executive Vice-Chancellor David Marshall, were able to prevent any protests against the retention of a faculty member who had threatened students and retaliated against them, on multiple counts.
To make matters worse, when asked about it, Kurin routinely lied about what had happened. She told some colleagues that she and Gomez had been exonerated, and those colleagues--notably former Institute for Field Research director Ran Boytner, who had enabled Kurin's field schools in Peru--repeated these lies to others. Even those who knew about the Title IX, including Willeke Wendrich, director of the board of governors of IFR and of UCLA's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, helped foster the falsehood that news of Kurin's Title IX only came to them after I began reporting on it in early 2020.
Kurin went so far as to perjure herself on the matter in her defamation suit against me, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. In the Amended Complaint in this litigation, filed in June 2020, we read the following:
"53. Between 2016 and 2018, Kurin engaged in the UCSB investigatory and disciplinary process, and utilizing the proper forums available to her as a professor, she amicably settled the matter with UCSB in March 2018. Neither UCSB nor any other entity found Kurin guilty or liable for any misconduct."
In the second sentence of this statement, Kurin and her attorney, David Scher of the Hoyer Law Group, told a federal court an obvious and baldfaced lie. (I will have more to say about Scher, what he knew and when he knew it, lower down.) I have been told that it is almost impossible to get prosecutors to charge litigants in civil cases with perjury, otherwise I certainly would have pursued that avenue. And this was just one of many such lies in the Amended Complaint.
I have laid out this chronology in detail so that the full context for Kurin receiving tenure can be understood. But before I go on, I must include an important detail: In 2016, while she was on administrative leave the Title IX investigation was continuing, Kurin sued the University of California, arguing that she had been denied a promotion she was entitled to despite the disciplinary proceedings. To the best of my information, the 2018 settlement was designed to deal with those issues as well.
We must now turn to the role of the anthropology department faculty. I want to emphasize that from the beginning, in 2014, there were faculty members who did their best to investigate and deal with Kurin's obvious abuse of students and her manifest psychological issues (these were a topic of discussion among faculty and students at Vanderbilt as well.) Those faculty efforts continued after the Title IX investigation was launched. But their efforts to alert the UCSB administration to the "Kurin problem" were met with complete resistance; higher level administrators took over all dealings with the situation and swore those faculty who were aware of the allegations to secrecy, as indicated above.
And, as word spread that Kurin had sued the university, fear of antagonizing the administration was compounded with fear of being sued by Kurin. Indeed, Kurin told colleagues that her parents had mortgaged their house to pay for the lawsuit against UC, and so faculty and students alike kept their heads down for fear that they would be on the firing line of Kurin and her father, whose power was feared as well.
But as much as I admire those faculty who really tried to do something, I have to fault them for not doing more to try to figure out why Kurin was on administrative leave and making that known to the department. Thus when concerned archaeologists came to me in September 2019 and asked me to look into all this, it was a simple matter to file a California Public Records Act and--after several months of UC's lawyers chewing over the matter--getting hold of the investigations of Kurin and Gomez and their conclusions. This was something the anthropology faculty could have done at any time.
Why was Kurin not fired in 2016, or 2018? This is a major question to which I cannot claim to have the full answer. I will discuss in detail below those who enabled Kurin to keep her job, including her father and of course UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang, who had the ultimate say in the matter. Even after 2018, when the IFR kicked Kurin out of the organization (she was on its academic board) and banned her from its field schools after Gomez allegedly sexually assaulted a student that year, the university did nothing (those events from summer 2018 occurred just a few months after the university signed a settlement with her that allowed her to keep her job.)
Was the university afraid of another lawsuit if they fired Kurin? That is possible, but UC's General Counsel's office, which has been involved since the Title IX, has enormous resources and could easily defend against such litigation. Was the university, and Chancellor Yang in particular, trying to protect the institution's reputation, which would be greatly harmed if students and their parents knew that it had harbored an abusive faculty member? My guess is that all of these factors played a role. But the bottom line is that the university enabled Kurin from the very beginning; in doing so, it made it possible for Kurin's then husband to sexually assault a student at her 2018 field school, a student who is still suffering from that experience.
We must now move from the question of why UCSB did not fire Kurin to the more recent question of why they gave her tenure when they had the choice not to. Again, this was ultimately Chancellor Yang's decision, although the UC General Counsel's office was almost certainly involved.
As I mentioned above, a core of Kurin's colleagues in the anthropology department tried hard to get rid of her. This was no secret in the department and so it will be no secret in this post. What follows is based on multiple sources, so Kurin and her attorneys should give up trying to guess or out sources for my reporting. Ultimately, the entire department was on record as opposing her tenure.
In September 2019, Kurin returned to teaching from her three year administrative leave. Despite the disciplinary nature of this leave, the university gave her partial credit on her tenure clock; thus she became eligible to apply for tenure in fall 2020, and did. As she stated explicitly in her lawsuit against me, and as her attorney David Scher told the student paper the Daily Nexus, the purpose of the litigation was to counter what Kurin considered lies that I was telling about her so that her tenure process could continue unimpeded (by the truth, as it were.) Kurin claimed that she had an excellent reputation and was well regarded by colleagues at UCSB and the anthropology community until I began reporting about her.
The reality, of course, was very different. So when Kurin came up for tenure, a core of the anthropology faculty began to discuss how to block her from getting it. But they made what I and some department members think was a fatal mistake: Rather than invoking Kurin's long history of misconduct, they decided to focus on her scholarship, which was probably borderline for a tenure candidate. The reasoning may have been sound: If they focused on her misconduct, Kurin could more easily claim that the department was biased against her, and the administration was likely to take the entire process out of the department's hands. But the plan backfired: While the department did indeed recommend against tenure on scholarship grounds, the administration overruled the department--a rare event in tenure proceedings--and granted her tenure last August.
Why did they do this? There are various hypotheses, some more charitable to Chancellor Yang and the UCSB administration than others. The less charitable interpretation is that the university was determined to continue its long policy of enabling Kurin no matter what, and the welfare and safety of students be damned (of course, this was the end result no matter what the motivation.) A more charitable interpretation might be that the UC General Counsel, which has been heavily involved in the Kurin matters from the beginning in the person of Counsel Michael Goldstein in Berkeley, advised UCSB that Kurin would be very likely to win her protest of the department's recommendation if she sued the university over it. The fact that she settled the case against me in July 2021, while the tenure decision was still pending, suggested to some that she was gearing up for another lawsuit which might be as costly as the one against me (her family spent an estimated $100,000 on representation by David Scher and the Hoyer Law Group.)
Instead, this hypothesis goes, the administration figured that Kurin was bound to screw up again sooner or later, and then UCSB would have firm grounds to terminate her. In support of this idea, I have it from numerous sources that over the past year a number of complaints about Kurin have been passed up to the administration from both students and faculty. In addition, Kurin demonstrated her mental instability by creating a very sick and disturbing sock puppet attacking me last year, which the administration was well aware of. (Kurin and Scher admitted to my legal team and to the federal judge that she had created and curated this Twitter account. She also created others that we were aware of.)
(In 2020, the administration had rejected a number of Title IX complaints that were filed against Kurin on jurisdictional grounds, so it was certainly aware of what victims and their allies were saying.)
And then, of course, there was the case of Jack Cantin and Kurin's involvement with what may well have been a fraud on the Cantin family, as discussed briefly above. According to sources, the university was investigating this matter at the time of Kurin's abrupt resignation, and it may have been the decisive factor. I have a series of California Public Records Act requests active at the university exploring the events leading up to Kurin's resignation; if they are refused I will seek legal counsel to challenge any attempts to privilege secrecy over much needed transparency.
And so on to the Jack Cantin case.
Kim Cantin quietly sues Santa Barbara County and its Sheriff-Coroner, relying on Danielle Kurin as chief expert over all others. Was Kim duped by Kurin?
As reported above, last October 18, Kim Cantin sued Santa Barbara County and its Sheriff-Coroner, William Brown (who, by the way, is up for re-election this coming June.) However, according to Kim's lead counsel, A. Barry Cappello of the widely feared Santa Barbara law firm of Cappello & Noel, the lawsuit was never formally served on the defendants. Instead, the attorneys quickly entered into negotiations with the county on Kim's behalf. Cappello told me that it was the firm's policy not to comment publicly on lawsuits it was engaged in, and that "We are currently attempting to resolve this litigation."
However, the Complaint in the case is a public court record, and so anyone can access it directly from the court or from the link I provide above.
I have already commented above on Kurin's use of a graduate student, VB, to "peer review" her forensics report, thus engaging in an apparent attempt to fool Kim Cantin, her attorneys, and the Sheriff's office into thinking that she had the last word and the most expertise in her identification of the very fragmentary remains as those of Jack Cantin.
The Complaint provides a clear reminder of just how tragic the 2018 Montecito mudslide, which took 23 lives, was for the families that lost loved ones, and how traumatic the events:
"...On the night of the mudslide, Kim and all of her family were swept away by the mud: her husband, Dave; their son, Jack, 17 years old; their daughter, Lauren, 14 years old; and their dog, Chester.
20. Kim, Lauren and Chester were swept away as the avalanche of mud, carrying trees 50 feet long and boulders the size of cars, slammed into the house, tearing it apart. Kim came to a stop approximately 200 yards from the house. Badly injured, she was taken to the hospital after she was found. Lauren was literally buried alive within approximately 100 yards from the house. She managed to breathe from only a small pocket of air, until her cries were heard and she was pulled from the mud and taken to the hospital. Dave, who was outside when the mud hit, was killed; he was swept down to the beach, where his body was recovered. Chester, found near Lauren, also was killed.
21. Jack’s body was never recovered. He had been inside the house, and should have been found close to Kim, Lauren and Chester."
Kim Cantin had long complained that the Sheriff's office did not do enough to find her missing son. I will not opine on that question here, other than to say that others in the Montecito community reportedly felt the same way, but also that any parent of a missing child would probably feel the same way in the same situation. In 2020, Kim made connection with Kurin, who reportedly agreed to help search for Jack and involved a group of undergraduate students in the effort.
We then read the following:
"27. On or about May 10, 2021, the Professor and her team discovered suspected human bone. The team collected two specimens, a fragment of cortical bone, and a toe bone. The team confirmed they were bone, and Professor Kurin then notified Kim. The specimens had been found with artifacts from Kim’s house, including remnants of carpet and remnants of Jack’s underwear. Kim called the Sheriff and told him about the remains and where they were found, and asked about the next step. She also asked the Sheriff to treat the bones carefully since she wanted them back."
An odd feature of this statement is that when Kim and Kurin announced having identified Jack's remains on July 22 of last year--exactly a week after Kurin settled the lawsuit with me--the media reported them, as well as some of the students, to the effect that the first remains had been found during Memorial Day weekend of 2021, that is in the days after Friday May 28--which also happens to be the day that Kurin and her attorneys scuttled the first round of court-mandated settlement talks with me and my attorneys.
The Complaint further states:
"36. Professor Kurin’s team had continued to search after May 10, 2021, through approximately mid-July 2021. They found additional bone remains, which they confirmed were human and which showed evidence of blunt force and/or thermal trauma, consistent with fires and the live electrical wires and transformers that had exploded during the mudslides. Those remains, like the original two, were also recovered with artifacts connected to the Cantin house, including but not limited to Jack’s bathroom tile. After recovery, recording, and analysis, the bones were delivered to Kim, who understood that the Sheriff’s Department had given up the search, and that this was a recovery situation, not a criminal investigation."
This paragraph confirms my original reporting about the Cantin case from last October, in which I pointed out that Kurin (and also Kim Cantin, of course, as well as the students involved) had failed to follow the California Health and Safety Code concerning the discovery of human remains, which requires that all excavation stop and that authorities be notified. While Kim Cantin could be forgiven for thinking, as she states in the Complaint, that the Sheriff was no longer interested in the matter and that there was no point informing the department of further discoveries, as an archaeologist and a supposed forensic anthropologist, Kurin certainly knew better. In fact, any archaeologist working in California and the Santa Barbara area is well aware that there are many burials in the area of Chumash Native Americans, and that not only local law but also federal law applies to possible Chumash remains.
I will leave it to readers to look over the entire 17 page Complaint and draw their own conclusions about its significance. However, the conclusions I draw, based on the evidence, are as follows:
1. Danielle Kurin accepted the mission of looking for Jack Cantin in 2020, possibly out of real concern but also aware that the mission would enhance her chances of getting tenure.
2. Kurin represented herself as an expert in forensic anthropology, a field in which she has no formal training, to Kim Cantin and to Kim's attorneys when they prepared the lawsuit. That allowed her to pretend that she had more expertise than the Sheriff's own anthropologists, including Rick Snow of Knoxville TN (Snow declined to discuss the case with me on the record.)
3. Faced with having to defend her interpretation of the human remains as the definitive one, Kurin hatched the plan of asking a graduate student wholly dependent on her for obtaining her PhD, VB, to pose as a "peer reviewer" of Kurin's analysis. Kurin apparently did not reveal VB's real identity and role to Kim Cantin nor to her attorneys, dishonestly pretending that VB had a PhD and was some kind of independent scientist when she was nothing of the sort. (I have insisted elsewhere that VB should not be blamed for this.) If Kurin had really been interested in having her work peer reviewed, wouldn’t she have chosen an established and reputable forensic anthropologist to do it?
4. Kurin, who has long had the habit of cultivating a group of undergraduate students around her, used those students in the search, flattered them, and implicated them innocently in the ruse that she performed in her effort to impress the UCSB administration and achieve tenure.
5. The Sheriff-Coroner is now in its sixth month of investigating Kurin's claims, starting from when they were publicly announced on July 22, and has yet to confirm them. As things stand now, there is no definitive evidence--and perhaps no evidence at all--that the remains that Kurin and her students found belong to Jack Cantin.
6. Perhaps Kurin will turn out to be right that Jack Cantin has been found, and perhaps not. In the meantime, a grieving mother has apparently been given false hopes by an anthropologist who clearly used the situation to try to achieve glory and tenure, and succeeded briefly in both. She is now gone from UCSB, and no longer possesses the credentials as a university anthropologist that she used to insert herself into this tragedy. It's up to UCSB to tell us why she abruptly resigned, and whether the Cantin case had something to do with it.
Who were Kurin's enablers in her long history of abuse?
I have made comments above that express my own conclusions about this. Kurin was enabled by UCSB, by its Chancellor Henry Yang, by her attorney David Scher, and by her father, Richard Kurin. In a followup post, I will have a lot more to say about how they did it and the consequences of their actions and those of others who have been involved in this sordid saga, which has left so many victims in its wake.
Note: I asked Danielle Kurin and her attorney, David Scher, multiple times to comment on this story. Neither have responded so far. As Kurin knows, she has a standing invitation to respond to anything I publish about her. The university has declined to confirm or deny that she was under investigation at the time of her resignation.
Update Jan 25: Kim Cantin drops her lawsuit against the Santa Barbara Sheriff and County, but negotiations over the remains claimed to be those of her missing son continue.
The Santa Barbara publication Noozhawk is reporting that Kim Cantin has dropped her lawsuit against the country while negotiations with the Sheriff-Coroner over the disposition of the remains continues. The case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning that it could be refiled if Kim is not happy with the outcome. Unfortunately, Noozhawk, along with the Santa Barbara News-Press which has now also covered the story of the lawsuit, have so far avoided telling readers about the long history of misconduct by former UC Santa Barbara anthropologist Danielle Kurin, whose claims to have found Jack launched this whole new chapter in the tragic Montecito mudslide story.
Exactly what Kim's dismissal of the lawsuit means is not yet clear, although it seems possible that she has now agreed to the Sheriff-Coroner's insistence that the remains be subjected to further testing, especially DNA testing. At the moment, we cannot be sure if the remains are even human, as experts other than Kurin have suggested they might be animal rather than human. Hopefully the Sheriff will now be able to determine that with some scientific certainty.
Meanwhile, some of Kurin's former students are beginning to break their silence about how their former professor handled this whole mess. Thus we find this on a Reddit page devoted to discussing issues at UC Santa Barbara:
The comment is anonymous (using a pseudonym) and I have not yet authenticated it, but it is consistent with what I have heard from other sources--especially the cult-like atmosphere that Kurin created among the undergraduates who worked with her on the search for Jack. And while Kurin is now gone from UCSB and reportedly from Santa Barbara too (in times of stress she usually stays with her parents in Virginia) the process of bringing those who enabled her to account is just beginning.
It's looking increasingly possible that Danielle Kurin, in her desperation to get tenure despite her many years of misconduct, may have defrauded Kim Cantin, UCSB students, and the still grieving Santa Barbara and Montecito communities, by insisting that she had found Jack when she had no real evidence for the claim. But there may be a silver lining. The bodies of Jack Cantin and two year old Lydia Suthitheppa, who was also among the 23 killed in the mudslide, may still be out there under the mud and debris, awaiting a genuine discovery.
More thoughts, Jan 25: One interesting aspect of this story is that the Sheriff's office has not done the easy thing, which would have been to just say, "Oh, yes, let's just say this is Jack" and let Kim Cantin bury the bones as her son. Instead, for six months the Sheriff seems to have stuck to protocol, unwilling to confirm Kurin's identification nor to change Jack's status as a "missing person." That is, the Sheriff has not done the easy thing politically, but the hard thing, it seems to me anyway (no one outraged by the Sheriff's actions, including Kim Cantin in her lawsuit, has explained what his motivation would be for making life more difficult for Kim.) By following proper procedure, the Sheriff seems to be following the law, even though he is up for re-election in June. I suspect the Sheriff has known for months that Kurin had no basis for declaring the remains were Jack's. It would be interesting to know what communication may have occurred between the Sheriff and the UCSB administration leading up to Kurin's abrupt resignation.