ST. GEORGE – A charge brought against a former Dixie State University professor, fired from the school in December 2014 after a student alleged he assaulted her during a classroom acting exercise, has been referred to the City of St. George for prosecution.
The allegations against Varlo Davenport, former theater professor at DSU, were originally being investigated by the Washington County Attorney’s Office. Davenport is now being charged with one class B misdemeanor for assault, and the case has been referred to City of St. George Legal Services.
The County Attorney’s Office only handles charges that are class A misdemeanors and greater, Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap said.
The city attorney handles lesser charges relating to violations of state laws and city ordinances that allegedly happen within the city.
Robert Cosson, chief prosecuting attorney for the City of St. George, said the city’s Legal Services office does not discuss cases that are currently being processed and he could, therefore, not comment on Davenport’s case.
Davenport’s arraignment is scheduled to take place June 4 at the Washington County Justice Court in St. George.
“We are gonna contest it. We’re going to ask for a jury trial,” Davenport said.
The charge against Davenport stems from an incident in November 2014. Students in one of his theater classes at DSU were preparing for upcoming acting scene performances for which they would be graded. Much of the class time that day was focused on a 17-year-old female student who had missed a lot of class previously and was not prepared to perform her graded scene, current DSU student Lizzy Peterson, who was in Davenport’s class when the alleged assault occurred, told St. George News in March.
The student was having difficulty connecting emotionally to her scene, which was to be performed with a male acting partner. Davenport tried various techniques to help the girl better connect emotionally and deliver her lines more loudly, Peterson said, but nothing he tried was getting through to the girl. Finally, Davenport implemented an exercise that involved other students in the class trying to annoy the girl in various ways to evoke an emotional response from her – things like poking her and tossing her hair in her face. When that exercise didn’t achieve the desired effect, Davenport stepped in himself and commenced flipping the girl’s hair and nudging her as her fellow students had done.
Classes were dismissed for Thanksgiving break soon afterward. When school resumed after the holiday, Davenport said, he was pulled out of class and told he had been accused of assault and that he was dismissed from his employment at the college.
The charge Davenport currently faces has been brought by the parents of the 17-year-old student who was the focus of the November classroom exercise.
Davenport said the exercise, which is being called an assault by the student and her parents, is a standard practice in theater instruction.
When a DSU faculty board reviewed Davenport’s termination in late January, written and verbal testimony from other theater educators and also some of Davenport’s students who had witnessed the incident validated the exercise as a standard theater education practice.
After hearing both sides of the case as well as the presented testimonies, the faculty review board recommended Davenport be reinstated as a professor at Dixie State, but DSU President Richard “Biff” Williams, who had not been in attendance at the review hearing and whom Davenport said has never met with him personally about the allegations, chose to override the board’s decision and make Davenport’s firing permanent.
What’s next for Davenport
“There’s a lot of this that I’m just baffled by,” Davenport said.
As Davenport awaits his June court appearance, he said finances are becoming tight for him and his family, and suddenly having no health insurance has been difficult.
“I just need a job,” he said. “We’re burning through savings.”
Davenport said he has sent out many applications seeking a new teaching position, but with the taint of the allegations in the air and a pending criminal charge as yet unresolved, the prospects aren’t bright.
“I just don’t know if anybody’s going to touch me until this is cleared up,” he said.
Davenport hasn’t been inactive during his joblessness. He is currently in rehearsals for The Space Between Theatre Company’s upcoming production of “Romeo and Juliet,” which opens April 30. Davenport will play the apothecary in the show and his wife, Andrea Davenport, will play the role of the nurse.
Davenport said he has also been designing and building sets for the upcoming Brigham’s Playhouse production of “Mary Poppins.” When that effort is completed, he said, he’d like to spend time doing volunteer work at the DiFiore Center in St. George.
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