[UPDATED] Jesse Cheng, UC Student Regent, Was Arrested for Alleged Sexual Battery on Female Student in His Apartment Near UCI, DA Didn't File Charges

CLICK HERE FOR UPDATE ON STUDENT CONDUCT OFFICE RULING AGAINST JESSE CHENG

UPDATE, FEB. 21, 12:07 P.M.:

As promised, UC student regent and UC Irvine campus leader

Jesse Cheng

has issued a statement regarding his sexual-battery arrest, the lack of criminal charges filed against him and the motivations of his accuser going public with the case.

In the statement, Cheng provides more detail than anyone else has publicly about what happened the night of Oct. 3, 2010; reiterates he does not know why his "former partner" chose to speak to the media now; and ends by saying, "I loved her very much, and I really wish for her the best in the future."

His full statement follows after the jump. . . .

I'm writing this statement to respond to a number of accusations made about me in various media outlets in the last week. Initially, I did not feel it was appropriate to comment because I was trying to defend the interests and privacy of all the students involved, including my former partner. I now feel like I have no choice but to explain fully what occurred.

I am innocent of all accusations made. These accusations have been extremely painful for me, especially because I have tried to acknowledge the privileges that I have as a man and support gender equality issues throughout my college career. It is work that is essential to my identity, and I would never engage in behavior that would compromise those values.

My former partner and I were in a committed relationship for almost a year. Near the end of the year, it was clear that the relationship was not working out, and I initiated the break up.

Afterward, we agreed to remain friends. We saw each other three times after the relationship ended, all three times we engaged in varying levels of consensual physical contact, none of which was forced or coerced, none of which was intercourse. The first time she invited me to be her date to a UCLA graduate school event. The next week, on Oct. 3, the night that would become the source of the accusations against me, I invited her over for dinner at my apartment in Irvine. That night, although we we engaged in kissing, all contact was consensual and we did not have sex. Afterward, we ate dinner at my apartment and watched a movie.

A week after this visit, she called me, and accused me of sexually assaulting her the week before. The phone conversation lasted for hours. My reaction during the phone call was that her description of events did not happen. In the following weeks, I would get as many as 50 calls a day from her. The amount of phone calls became extremely stressful and disruptive.

During the time of these phone calls, she requested I meet her personally at her apartment. I visited her apartment two weeks after Oct. 3. During that visit, she initiated and engaged physical intimacy. It was the third time we met after the break up, and a few weeks after the night she had claimed I behaved inappropriately.

The phone calls continued, and began to have a serious toll on my well-being. She demanded that I write e-mail apologies to her, and specifying exact language that she wanted to see in those e-mails. Exhausted, I sent out those e-mails. What I said in those e-mails are not true and did not reflect my behavior, but I thought that by adopting her language and meeting the standards she set out, we could both move forward. I regret lying to her in those e-mails, and it was a mistake to capitulate just so she would stop calling me incessantly.

On Nov. 4, the police arrested me on campus and took me back to the police department for questioning. We spoke about the relationship, that particular night and the entire situation. Three hours later, the police released me, and the DA declined to press any charges.

I know this last week has been extremely difficult for the campus community. It has been difficult for me and my friends. I would ask people to please thoughtfully consider both sides of a story and the entire context of a relationship before jumping to conclusions or making assumptions. I do not know why my former partner has chosen to make these accusations or make them at this time. I loved her very much, and I really wish for her the best in the future.


 

UPDATE, FEB. 18, 7:49 A.M.:

A Los Angeles-based nonprofit center "dedicated to investigating, codifying and implementing the theory and practice of an activist feminism for immigrant-based, transnational communities" has issued a statement condemning UC student regent

Jesse Cheng

and the Orange County district attorney's office (OCDA).

The Mariposa Center for Change is also standing up for "Laya," the female UCLA graduate student who accused her ex-boyfriend Cheng of sexual battery last year. The center's statement, which includes a new quote from the alleged victim, follows.

The Mariposa Center for Change stands with Laya as she bravely speaks out against her attacker, Jesse Cheng, UC student regent, who was charged on Nov. 4, 2010, for sexual battery. Cheng, who was recently lauded as a "leader of student activists" by the Huffington Post, admitted to sexually assaulting Laya in his off-campus apartment on Oct. 3. The Mariposa Center for Change condemns Cheng's actions and the actions of the Orange County district attorney's office who have not taken any action at this time. In fact, the DA's office reports they have no records of any case under Cheng's name (according to the New University Newspaper).

About 1 out of 5 college women will be sexually assaulted, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Sixty-five percent of rapes go unreported, and 90 percent of those who are raped know the perpetrator. In most of these cases, even when the university prosecutes, rapists are able to appeal and get reduced penalties. For example, in some universities, expulsion may be appealed. In some cases of expulsion, students might even be able to re-enroll. More disturbing is that universities go out of their way to suppress reports of sexual assaults and rape.

Each year, about 4,000 U.S. college students report to their university that they have been sexually assaulted. The Center for Public Integrity and NPR's investigative unit teamed up to examine how universities respond to reports of sexual assault on campus. They found that months, sometimes years pass before universities respond, even though universities are responsible, according to the Jeanne Clery Act, to investigate and punish these crimes. A similar Dateline NBC investigation found that women were discouraged by university officials to move forward with their claims.

The fact that Cheng is a UC student regent raises even greater doubts as to whether the UC system will punish one of their own. Executive Director of the Mariposa Center for Change, Ivy Quicho, said, "We are concerned that there has been no response from the DA's office or no decision from the University of California, Irvine's Student Conduct Office. These actions point to a lack of urgency to address the attack of a student, at best, and a blatant cover-up to protect a UC student regent, at worst."

Despite Laya's fear and anxiety to talk about what happened to her, she is unwavering in her commitment to the truth. "I knew I had to say something," she said to the Mariposa Center for Change. "What if he did this to someone else? He has to be held accountable." Laya continues to tell her story even as she faces intimidation and victim blaming. The Mariposa Center for Change demands Justice for Laya and invites others to attend a community meeting on Feb. 17, 2011, at the UCI Campus Cross Cultural Center at 6 p.m. Those interested should contact ave@mariposacenterforchange.org.

The Mariposa Center for Change is a nonprofit center dedicated to investigating, codifying and implementing the theory and practice of an activist feminism for immigrant-based, transnational communities. We work with women and children and aim to improve social, political and economic conditions and end inequality through an empowered sisterhood, transformative programming, grassroots organizing and strategic alliances.


Actually . . .

  • Cheng was arrested on suspicion of sexual battery of Nov. 4, 2010. The case was submitted by the Irvine Police Department to the OCDA as a misdemeanor sexual battery. The OCDA declined to file charges due to insufficient evidence to win a conviction on the misdemeanor. Thus, Cheng was never charged with the crime.
  • The OCDA does have records of the case.
  • The UCI Office of Student Conduct says its investigation is ongoing, and an administrator with the Oakland-based UC has been appointed to ensure the campus probe is fair.
  • According to the statement, the community meeting was on campus last night. The Weekly was not e-mailed the statement until just after 12:30 this morning.


Meanwhile, there are rumors swirling around campus that Cheng tried to kill the New University story that exposed his arrest and threatened to sue the student newspaper. Managing editor Traci Garling Lee, who wrote the piece with editor David Gao, would not confirm or deny that for the Weekly because all conversations they had with Cheng before publication were off the record.

Cheng told the Weekly, despite the "harsh article," he supports the New U and believes the student journalists "did their due diligence."
 

UCI.edu
UPDATE, FEB. 16, 4:43 P.M.:

Before we get to the meat of this post--an interview with UC Student Regent Jesse Cheng about his arrest for allegedly trying to rape a UCLA graduate student in his apartment near UC Irvine and the reaction to that news--we pause for a brief word from the Orange County district attorney's office (OCDA).

Readers of our original post know that the reason the OCDA declined to press charges against Cheng were murky Tuesday. Susan Kang Schroeder, the chief of staff at the OCDA, cleared that up this afternoon.

"The evidence we had is the victim and the man had a prior relationship, that she did not report this for two weeks, and that she had seen him after the alleged incident," Schroeder explained. "Based on all those facts, at this time, there is not sufficient evidence to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt."

She continued, "Should, at any point, further evidence be submitted that can get this beyond a reasonable doubt, we are always willing to review the case for a misdemeanor sexual-battery charge."

That's how Irvine Police submitted the case to the OCDA, as a misdemeanor sexual battery, Schroeder said.

To the idea expressed by Cheng's accuser and some who have commented to online coverage that he wields power as the UC student regent to quash criminal charges, Schroeder replied, "That's kinda silly."

For one thing, the OCDA files charges against police officers and other powerful people all the time, she noted. For another, the prosecutor handed the case did not know Cheng was the UC student regent.

*  *  *

Jesse Cheng says he has no plans to step down as the UC student regent before his term ends.
Jesse Cheng says he has no plans to step down as the UC student regent before his term ends.
Photo by Daniel A. Anderson/University Communications

Photo by Daniel A. Anderson/University Communications
Jesse Cheng says he has no plans to step down as the UC student regent before his term ends.

Cheng was on the UCI campus when I called him today. After he ducked into a quiet corner so we could speak, I asked for his comment on Tuesday's

New University

article with a woman's explosive allegations against the UC student regent and Asian American studies major.

"Well, first of all, I'm innocent," Cheng wanted to make clear. "It was a messy relationship. It was a really bad breakup."

Of the attempted rape allegation, Cheng said, "Nothing of the sort" happened.

But the New U reported e-mails exist between Cheng and his alleged victim, identified as "Laya," in which he is said to have apologized for attacking his former girlfriend of a year.

"The police have all that," Cheng explained, "and they said there was no evidence, nothing to push forward a case. There were no charges because nothing happened."

For now, Cheng has no plans to step down as student regent before his term ends in July.

"That would be an admission of guilt," he said. "People have mentioned that students need to trust their student regent. If it's true, if it's not true, students still have to believe the person serving them. It's a fair question to ask."

For now, the University of California is trusting Cheng, at least until the results from a UCI Office of Student Conduct investigation are in. "This is a student matter that is being handled by the campus in accord with standard processes covered by student privacy laws," Steve Montiel, UC President Mark Yudof's president, told the Bay Area's Bay Citizen. "While there is no indication that any of this has anything to do with Jesse Cheng's position as a regent, this matter also is being reviewed by UC's senior vice president-chief compliance and audit officer." That officer's job will be to ensure the campus investigation was fair, not whether the allegations against Cheng were true, Montiel added.

When I mentioned to Cheng that nothing I read about him before his arrest had painted him as the type of "player" one could see caught in middle of attempted rape allegations, Cheng broke out in a laugh before responding, "No. Not at all. Not even close."

He quickly shifted to a more serious tone. "I'm a man, and I recognize in this society, men have a lot of privileges. Violence against women is a serious issue. Throughout my college career, I have stood up against violence against women."

Given his stands, did it ever occur to him he would find himself in his current situation?

"No. It's mind-blowing," he said. "I mean, really, I was suddenly taken by surprise. I'm a very straight-edge kind of dude. I don't drink, I don't smoke. I have constantly been shocked by this. . . . I also want to say that while I'm innocent, I don't want this case to be reflective of other cases of violence against women, which does exist."

Because it exists, he understood why he was arrested before his accuser's allegations could be fully investigated.

"She came to police," he said. "They did their due diligence. They also released me without charges. . . . I'm not holding anything against anyone. I totally understand."

Since the allegations got out Tuesday, Cheng said the reaction to him on the UCI campus has been "a heavily mixed bag."

"There's been a good amount of support," he said. "I'm grateful for that. A lot has come from people I've worked with in the past. . . . But a good many people are confused by it. I don't hold that against them--how could I?"

When asked if anyone whispers to another as he walks by, Cheng replied, "There have been a number of people looking at me. It's very scary at times. Actually, I'm kind of scared shitless."

To the claims of Laya and some who have commented to the online coverage that Cheng wields power that has silenced his enemies and kept the incident out of the media for months, Cheng asked, "Do you want to be super-real?"

Go for it, Mr. Student Regent.

"Trust me, this post doesn't have power to do anything," he said. "I don't know why they waited so long [to release news of his arrest], but I have no power to stop it. I can't even stop a fee increase from happening. . . . Politically, no one's protecting my ass. . . . Last year, people were graffiting on my door over the fee increase. I couldn't even stop that. . . . I have no influence over that case; I do not even have enough power to defend my innocence."

Cheng said he has had no contact with Laya since last October. While he claims he had no direct knowledge she would go public with the allegations at this time, he did admit to having a nagging sense something bad "was coming down the line."

"When the New U contacted me, I was scared shitless to say anything. I knew a student conduct investigation was going on, so I didn't think I could comment," he said. "Plus, I might say something stupid."

Once the news did hit, Cheng had no idea things would get this "crazy."

He said he does not blame the newspaper for reporting the allegations; he even credited the student journalists for "doing their due diligence." But to fill in some of the blanks from the news coverage, he plans to issue a full statement--once he has time to wrap his head around it all.

"I wish people heard the whole story before jumping to judgment," Cheng said. "It was a bad breakup. This is not even the result of a miscommunication. Nothing of the sort happened."

He did not want to speculate why Laya chose to go public, saying, "I don't want to villainize her. I don't think that would be fair to her."

He said he has no current plans to take legal action against the messengers.

"You know, a lot of people have talked about it," Cheng said. "I'm going to be real: It's a campus newspaper. I support the work they do. I might not like it, I might think this was a harsh article, but I support the work they do."

He did add one caveat. "If they go ahead and do something else . . . maybe."

Not that he has time to think about that right now.

"I'm literally just tying to pass Chinese," he said.
 

ORIGINAL POST, FEB. 15, 4:48 P.M.:

Jesse Cheng, the 10-school University of California Governing Board's student regent and a fifth-year Asian American studies major at UC Irvine, was arrested last November for sexual battery.

The Orange County district attorney's office apparently declined to file charges.

The alleged victim--a female graduate student from UCLA--has now brought the case to the attention of UC Irvine's student newspaper, which posted her explosive allegations today.

The New University report by managing editor Traci Garling Lee and editor David Gao states Irvine Police Department's adult arrest roster for the month of November shows Cheng was arrested on suspicion of sexual battery Nov. 4, 2010, at his off-campus apartment at 4771 Campus Dr., Irvine. His alleged victim, identified as "Laya," first reported the incident to cops on Oct. 26, claiming Cheng tried to rape her in his apartment on Oct. 3.

UC Student Regent Jesse Cheng reportedly apologized repeatedly to the female victim of an alleged sexual assault in the weeks leading up to his arrest.
UC Student Regent Jesse Cheng reportedly apologized repeatedly to the female victim of an alleged sexual assault in the weeks leading up to his arrest.
Photo by Daniel A. Anderson/University Communications

Photo by Daniel A. Anderson/University Communications
UC Student Regent Jesse Cheng reportedly apologized repeatedly to the female victim of an alleged sexual assault in the weeks leading up to his arrest.

Reached via phone today by the

Weekly

, Irvine Police spokeswoman Lieutenant

Julia Engen

confirmed the dates for the alleged assault, initial report to police and sexual-battery arrest. Engen did not have the exact date the case was submitted to the OCDA for charges, but she surmised it was the same week as the arrest.

The New U reports that Laya was told by Irvine Police Detective Tom Goodbrand that the OCDA decided to not press charges against Cheng. That's followed by an unidentified OCDA spokesperson saying the agency has "no record of the case under Cheng's name at the time."

Susan Schroeder, the OCDA chief of staff, today gave a possible explanation to the Weekly: The employee keyed into a computer search the wrong spelling of the suspect's name, and without a date of birth, the Cheng file could not be found at the time the New U called.

Engen says she told Lee to contact the OCDA again to find out what happened to the case. It was Schroeder's understanding the reporter did not do that. But Lee tells the Weekly she spoke with the OCDA's office several times throughout last week and gave several spellings of Cheng's name, including his birth date, and nothing came up.

Lee concedes she was encouraged to call the OCDA back if she could get any more arrest information out of Irvine Police but that no additional details were released to her.

"I can assure you we did our due diligence," Lee tells me.

 

Jesse Cheng was highlighted in USA Today last year for his role in protesting education cuts.
Jesse Cheng was highlighted in USA Today last year for his role in protesting education cuts.
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Schroeder, meanwhile, vowed to report back to the Weekly with the reason charges were not filed. Once that comes, this post will be updated.

Laya also reportedly alerted UCI's Office of Student Conduct in November, after Cheng's arrest. Lee writes that police, New University and the Office of Student Conduct have acquired copies of several e-mails from October in which Cheng apologizes repeatedly to his alleged victim.

The Office of Student Conduct investigation apparently remains open, but with the criminal case dead--or at least in limbo pending more evidence--Laya decided to open up now to New University.

'"I hesitated to talk to the New U for a long time because I was scared Jesse would retaliate, and as someone in his position, he has people around him who can and who have gone out of their way to silence me and convince me not to report the assault," Laya reportedly said. "I don't want to let him silence me anymore."

Speaking of silence, Cheng declined to comment on the record, according to New University. The Weekly has yet to hear back from him.

As the UC student regent, Cheng represents more than 200,000 students throughout California, attending meetings of the regents and their committees. His one-year term began on July 1, 2010. This has been a critical time for the 22-year-old because of budget cuts, fee increases and unrest throughout the UC system.

"Staff on this campus have it really hard," he told the Daily Bruin, whose interviewer obviously did not know Cheng had been arrested for allegedly assaulting a UCLA student just days earlier. "All campuses have it really hard. I know students, we're struggling . . . You're barely making it by, I feel you. I got duct tape holding my shoes together. . . . Then (staff) take furloughs, then they take staff cuts. . . . You're cutting off thousands of staff. And those people have livelihoods, and they're not going into a good job market. And that goes back down to students--the quality of care that you get, how long will your financial aid last?"

At UCI, the Cupertino native is active in the associated student union, the Student Fee Advisory Committee and the Asian Pacific Student Association, whose newsletter stated upon his appointment as student regent, "Jesse Cheng is one of the most amazing student advocates of this decade. His passion for justice gets stronger every day, and there is no doubt he will be up in the forefront of leadership in the years to come."

Dan Tsang, UCI's Asian American Studies librarian and a former contributor to OC Weekly, blogged days before Laya reported the alleged rape attempt to cops that Cheng had courageously come out as a bisexual man in the wake of the suicide of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi in October.

The University Communications office at UCI posted a feature on Cheng shortly after he was appointed student regent. He told his interviewer everything he'd done at UCI he'd done to make his mother proud. Later in the same piece, Cheng expressed hopes of someday becoming a politician.

With the arrest disclosure, he's well on his way to becoming a Kennedy.


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