Given that the first of many allegations against Anderson was made public nearly six months ago, the 96-page document from the Investigations Law Group, produced at a cost of more than $100,000, couldn't possibly satisfy all parties with a stake in the matter — but damn it if authors Elizabeth Rita, Anne McCord and Katrina Jones didn't try.
The report doesn't substantiate the myriad sexual-assault charges, but takes Anderson to task for bullying behavior on social media toward actual and potential accusers — with Exhibit A being a meme of Bugs Bunny lazily chewing a carrot at gunpoint while saying "Do it, bitch." As a result, the report is a classic example of Solomonic baby-splitting that gives an out to both the board, which will probably censure Anderson for his behavior during a meeting tomorrow, September 17, and Anderson, whose statement about the results — which found nothing to report about the most egregious claims — finds him trying to exhibit the sort of wokeness demanded of toxic-masculinity purveyors in 2021.
The roots of the drama can be traced to March 26, when Black Lives Matter 5280 released a claim that Anderson had sexually assaulted an unidentified woman. Then on May 25, Denver Public Schools parent Mary-Katherine Brooks Fleming told the Colorado House judiciary committee that 61 high school students and one recent graduate had come to her the previous August with similar assertions against a person "in a position of trust," who was quickly assumed to be Anderson. Within days, ILG was hired to investigate, and Anderson announced that he would step back from most of his board duties during the inquiry.
The next month, on July 14, with the probe dragging on and no end in sight, Anderson staged a press conference in which he said he would return full-time to the board — but that wasn't the grabbiest of his revelations. He admitted that he'd considered suicide as a result of the uproar, ripped his fellow boardmembers over their handling of the situation, and contended that members of the media covering the matter were "complicit in the white supremacist attacks that have happened to my family."
The report's authors navigate such issues with extreme caution. The first chunk of the document juxtaposes acknowledgments about the history of false sexual-assault claims against Black men with nods to the ways victims of such crimes have been disbelieved or abused by the process over the years. Not until page twenty do the authors finally get explicit about their conclusions in respect to the five major issues set before them, as seen in the following graphic.
Issue two, about unwelcome behavior exhibited by Anderson back in 2018 toward fellow members of Never Again Colorado, a gun-control advocacy organization, had indeed been admitted/substantiated — in an April 5 Westword post. In that piece, we published a letter from six female Never Again Colorado members that states: "Tay maintained a work environment that made us feel uncomfortable and unsafe. He acted unprofessionally by sharing inappropriate/misogynistic content in board group chats, talking in code about female board members in front of them (with romantic/sexual subtexts), daring female board members to perform sexualized actions, having conversations comparing the attractiveness of female board members, and making lewd comments in private to female board members. Tay pursued female board members romantically/sexually on behalf of a friend and of himself. Doing so abused many power imbalances including Tay having professional power over another, Tay being an adult and the other underage (as young as 15), and Tay being sober and the other inebriated. He maintained an atmosphere where this kind of behavior was normalized. These power dynamics did not end at the hypersexualization of female peers — many of us felt silenced, undervalued and deplatformed."
In response, Anderson provided Westword with a statement: "My intention was never to make anyone feel this way, but I understand now how these women-identifying members felt and this created an uncomfortable work environment for some. I also understand that in situations where people, like myself, are in positions of power and engage in this type of behavior it can lead to fear of negative repercussions, personally and professionally, and pressure to appease people with power.... I deeply apologize to the women-identifying members of NAC for the impact of my actions."
The general public will have a tough time weighing the determinations related to issues three and four, about Anderson's alleged misconduct while employed by DPS and the 62 sexual-assault assertions delivered by Fleming, since most of the material is blotted out to protect the identities of the individuals who communicated with ILG. But issue five, regarding accusations of intimidation and coercion, is spelled out clearly.
The Bugs Bunny "Do it, bitch" meme was shared by Anderson on Facebook on May 26, the day after Fleming's testimony before the legislature. "Two witnesses in the investigation reached out to us to make us aware of this posting, and said they believed this was a post meant to intimidate women who might come forward in response to the testimony," the report notes. "One woman said: 'I believe this post will intimidate victims to come forward to investigators or report to law enforcement for fear of violence, including potential gun violence from Director Anderson or his many public apologists. I do not know who the post was about, but I hope each of you will see why this post was incredibly problematic to be posted by someone currently under investigation for sexual assault.'"
Also concerning to ILG was a July 7 post on Anderson's private Facebook page that started with "a direct 'warning' to people who have engaged in conversation disparaging my name over the last few months.... If you commented, liked a comment, made a post/tweet, or even a simple DM. I have your name, I won’t retaliate against you whatsoever. Here is the warning do not speak to me ever again. I will literally act like you do not exist."
The pledge not to retaliate didn't persuade one school board member, who perceived the post "as a threat that Director Anderson would engage in punishing behavior against anyone on the Board who has spoken out against him or in response to the allegations," according to the report.
These are the most concrete findings against Anderson, yet they haven't exactly been hidden; anyone with modest Google skills and an hour to spare could have found them. Moreover, Anderson had previously engaged in this sort of online behavior, as documented in a March 31 Westword post. In it, Anderson conceded that a May 2018 Denver Public Schools investigation had found that he had taken part in retaliation while advocating on behalf of former Manual High School principal Nick Dawkins, whom the district had investigated following employee complaints of harassment and bias. A Dawkins accuser said that retaliation took the form of social media posts aimed at her; she viewed it as harassment of a person who'd made claims of harassment."
Given that information — to which the board already had access — Anderson's more recent social media posts hardly constitute a bombshell. But they'll allow the other boardmembers to slap his wrist — likely the most serious outcome of this long and expensive investigation.
Both the Denver School Board and Tay Anderson issued statements on September 15. Here they are:
Denver School Board statement:
Today Denver Public Schools Board of Education is releasing the findings of the Investigations Law Group (ILG) independent investigation into the allegations made public against Denver Public Schools Board Director Tay Anderson earlier this year. The ILG report is detailed and complex. Investigators interviewed 63 people, reviewed thousands of pages of documentary evidence, and evaluated allegations in five key areas. The report contains references to sexual assault and sexual harassment, which may be triggering to certain people.
There are portions of the report that are redacted. Section 3 is redacted because it documents an investigation into student allegations under Title IX and these records cannot be provided under the Colorado Open Records Act. Portions of Section 2 have been redacted because Director Anderson asserts that they violate his privacy interests if they are released. The Board believes the report should be as transparent as possible and will take the matter to the court to allow a judge to determine whether it is appropriate for the district to release the redacted portions of section 2.
From the beginning, the Board has remained committed to a fair and thorough process. We strongly believe an earnest search for the truth is best for all parties involved. Our first commitment is to serve the students, employees, and the Denver Public Schools community. There is nothing more important than the safety and well-being of our students. The ILG investigation was designed to create space for all members of our community to be heard and determine if there is more we can be doing to keep students safe.
We also recognized the need to ensure that Director Anderson received a fair process. All too often, allegations leveled against Black men are assumed to be true without sufficient verification or evidence; and Black women along with women of color are treated with a lesser sense of care and urgency. We did not want that to happen here. We believe everyone deserves due process. Director Anderson agreed. He and his attorney both supported and welcomed this investigation when the Board authorized it in April 2021.
The Board strongly believes the investigation treated Director Anderson fairly. The most grievous accusations were not substantiated and the Board is grateful for that. However, the report reveals behavior unbecoming of a board member. As elected officials, we must hold ourselves and each other to the highest standards in carrying out the best interests of the District. Director Anderson’s behavior does not meet those standards. The Board will hold a Board meeting to consider a censure of Director Anderson at 1pm on Friday, September 17. Until then, individual Board members will not discuss their personal deliberations or the contents of this report.
Tay Anderson statement:
Yesterday, I received a report issued by ILG, an independent investigation firm hired by the Denver School Board, that has now been provided to the media. This investigation and subsequent report stemmed from allegations made against me through a social media post on March 26, 2021 by the organization BLM5280 via various social media sites. These anonymous allegations eventually led to testimony provided by the same individual who reported to BLM5280, claiming to have knowledge of an additional 62+ victims provided to the Colorado legislature through open testimony on a proposed bill. It was determined that both allegations came from a single source whose lack of credibility is outlined in detail in the provided report. We are not surprised, but nevertheless encouraged that this investigation found the allegations to be unsubstantiated and without merit.
My legal team and I fully cooperated with the Investigative Law Group and Denver Public Schools over the last six months. During the investigation we maintained that the severity of these allegations warranted a more official investigative process, to include law enforcement, appropriate victim's assistance, as well as access to processes that serve due process and the presumption of innocence until proof of guilt.
I believe the most important message that can be conveyed at this time is that the finding of unsubstantiated claims against me is in no way a victory over survivors, but rather an opportunity to reconsider how we view and create not only restorative, but also transformative justice, for survivors, falsely accused, and correctly convicted.
Today my hope is that our community can begin the process of healing we’ve so desperately longed for. I plan to address the report in its entirety during a press conference in the coming days after I have had adequate time to review the document in more detail with my legal counsel.
Click to read the Tay Anderson report.