Jury finds Varlo Davenport ‘not guilty’

Varlo Davenport hugs a friend after receiving a not guilty verdict, St. George, Utah, July 14, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News
Varlo Davenport hugs a friend after receiving a not guilty verdict, St. George, Utah, July 14, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Former Dixie State University theater professor Varlo Davenport was found not guilty of a single charge of assault Thursday night.

Davenport had been charged after a student accused him of pulling her hair in a classroom acting class in November of 2014. He was fired from his 15-year tenured position at Dixie State University even though a faculty review board and the faculty senate cleared him of wrongdoing.

Following a two-day trial that began Wednesday, the four-man jury deliberated for less than two hours Thursday, returning a “not guilty” verdict at about 8 p.m.

Surrounded by nearly two dozen happy supporters outside the courtroom after the verdict was announced, Davenport said he doesn’t know what’s next.

“What I want is just to go back to work. I loved my job, I gave a lot to it. I just want to go back to work,” he said. “Every day walking into a classroom is a privilege, to watch those young artists blossom and grow – it’s what gets me up in the morning.”

The verdict is an affirmation that Varlo Davenport is a good man, Aaron Prisbrey, Davenport’s attorney, said.

Varlo Davenport with a group of friends after receiving a not guilty verdict, St. George, Utah, July 14, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News
Varlo Davenport with a group of friends after receiving a not guilty verdict, St. George, Utah, July 14, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

“And he’s been put through stuff that you wouldn’t want for your worst enemy,” Prisbrey said, “what Dixie State College has done to him and certain members of law enforcement have done to him.

“Even though there was quite a bit of evidence to present to the jury, you know, the jury system – there’s nothing quite like it, even in Washington County, Utah.”

Davenport said he is grateful for all the support he has had through his ordeal. Nearly 50 people staged a rally Wednesday morning on the sidewalk near the Washington County Justice Court where the trial was held.


Read more: Davenport trial: Supporters gather to support former professor


“I had so much support,” Davenport said. “I had so many people, some I don’t even know, came out of the woodwork and just said, ‘keep fighting.'”

“It makes a difference, not being alone,” he said, “and here’s the thing: There are people out there who have gone through this … and I don’t want them to ever go through this.

Dixie State University Public Safety Director Don Reid testifies at Varlo Davenport's jury trial Thursday, St. George, Utah, July 14, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News
Dixie State University Public Safety Director Don Reid testifies at Varlo Davenport’s jury trial Thursday, St. George, Utah, July 14, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

“So a lot of it has been – my fight, was because there are  faculty members who still have to live under the threat of any moment being terminated without due process. That’s got to end.”

Davenport had a lot of support in the courtroom as well.

Utah Shakespeare Festival founder Fred Adams and two other university theater professors testified for the defense, explaining how acting students are taught and what kind of exercises are used to help generate emotion.

Davenport’s jury trial began Wednesday. Deliberations began about 6 p.m. Thursday and the verdict was announced a little after 8 p.m.

Dixie State University Director of Public Safety Director Don Reid testified at the trial. Prisbrey questioned whether Reid had started – or completed – his investigation of the incident in an unbiased manner or whether he had recommended criminal charges be filed before even meeting the alleged victim, Cassidy Sorensen.

Varlo Davenport with a group of friends after receiving a not guilty verdict, St. George, Utah, July 14, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News
Varlo Davenport with a group of friends after receiving a not guilty verdict, St. George, Utah, July 14, 2016 | Photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

St. George City Attorney Robert Cosson objected to the line of questioning and said the manner in which the case was investigated was not relevant to the facts of the case because Reid was not called to testify.

” … it’s not relevant what he thought or did in this case,” Cosson said. “He’s not the trier of fact so his opinion or what he thought should happen in the case is not relevant.”

Prisbrey argued back that the whole investigation was in question if Reid was not unbiased.

“His thought process and whether he went into this thing unbiased affected everything he did in the collection of evidence, in interviewing the witnesses and whether he had motivations before he’d even conducted an interview is certainly relevant,” Prisbrey said.

“It doesn’t matter that he hasn’t testified,” he added. “It pertains to the evidence that was potentially ignored and the way that evidence was collected and it’s entirely relevant – and it’s traditional.”

Judge Karlin Myers removed the jury from the courtroom while the discussion continued.

“Your honor, (Reid) conducted an investigation and there are certain things that he overlooked, I think intentionally so, and he conducted interviews with witnesses in what I believe to be violation of police protocol in order to reach a result that would result in prosecution,” Prisbrey said.

“This is what we fought for, for a year, over a year, to obtain emails,” Prisbrey said. “This individual, in response to my request for those emails, filed an affidavit, I think falsely so, and it is of the utmost importance that we be able to look at the investigation and the manner (in which) the evidence was collected and any bias or motives the investigating officer may have had. Because that has an impact on suggestibility of witnesses and evidence that has not been presented.”

Reid did not put evidence into Spillman, a widely used law enforcement database, where a chain of evidence could be shown, Prisbrey said.

“All the parties, all the students that were in the classroom when this alleged incident occurred – everyone that can be found – will testify,” Myers said.

And because the witnesses would testify, concluded Myers as he shut down the line of questioning, it did not matter if Reid properly conducted the investigation.

Response

Before the verdict was read, Cosson made this statement:

“From the City of St. George, as the prosecuting attorney, we just hope that the (alleged) victim in the case feels like justice is done and has been done throughout this process.

“We wish her the best of luck in her continuing education and travels and hopefully she will be able to move on from this experience in a positive way.”

Dixie State University issued a statement late Thursday, acknowledging Davenport’s “years of service” to the institution but standing by the decision to fire him.

“Dixie State University did not take part in charges filed against Davenport; that was a decision made by the victim, who was a minor at the time of the incident, and her parents,” the statement said. “Dixie State University stands firm by its decision to terminate Davenport’s employment at the institution.”

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Email: japplegate@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

 

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10 Comments

  • ladybugavenger July 15, 2016 at 10:17 am

    Mr Davenport you have been dragged through the mud and they tried to break you but today is your victory where you walk out of the mud clean.

    I’m glad justice was served in an injust case.

  • godisdead July 15, 2016 at 11:59 am

    Congratulations on the victory ! Now you need to sue Dixie state, the pres of dixie,and the Dixie state police.
    The environment at Dixie should not be B.Y.U. south.
    Dixie State needs to hire non-mormons for their administrators.
    When i attended Dixie, Huddleston was the Mormon leader.
    During a student body election, the administration utilized a golf cart to transport students from the L.D.S. institute to the voting booths, fearing that an outsider might have a say.
    When a student wanted to hand out political literature, and asked for permission, he was denied because he wasn’t a member of a student club. When Huddleston was asked why the Mormon missionaries could hand out material on campus, the response was that “technically, they could be in the L.D.S.S.A.”, the Mormon seminary.
    A history major found out the history class he signed up for was cancelled. He later found out that pres. Huddleston’s daughter was allowed to take the same class, independently, but this was never offered to the other students.
    Dixie State should move forward in a professional manner and stop running the university like it’s Mayberry (or byu).

    • Chris July 15, 2016 at 6:36 pm

      ““technically, they could be in the L.D.S.S.A.” Wow, that’s pretty bad since “technically” they could not because missionaries are not students.

    • youcandoit July 15, 2016 at 7:22 pm

      I agree with you well said. Also if Mormons want to know why people say things about them they should not be discriminating against non Mormons that’s what makes them or their organization look like a cult.

    • mesaman July 15, 2016 at 9:40 pm

      I agree. Varlo has every right to sue in civil court for restitution; for his lost salary and benefits, for the suffering and mental anguish he had to experience, for the ridicule leveled at him throughout this year, and for the suffering his family has had to endure. The University should strongly consider settling without a trial. The president and his cohorts should address their damaged egos and reassess their decision, restoring his position, rank, and tenure at DSU, without conditions. I salute you Varlo. You have stood tall during this trial of your honesty and professional competence and have achieved justice. But now is the time to receive your just reward.

  • .... July 15, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    Bob says it was the Mormons that are responsible for what happened here. !

  • ScanMeister July 15, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    Congratulations so sad this had to drag on so long. I hope DSU realizes that unfair treatment must end. We are reminded this is not a private school like BYU. This type of mentality has to change or there will be more litigation coming down the pipe for the University.

  • NotSoFast July 15, 2016 at 9:44 pm

    Found not guilty by the jury. But your report says Dixie University administration stands by their decision for firing him and indicates he is still not suitable to teach at their campus in their eyes. And who’s eyes are we talking about? So now what? Are you going to do any follow up with parties involved ? Or are we just left to wonder the outcome of this subject? Is it now a dead issue? Will he get his life and teaching job back (with back pay compensation) or not ?

  • Mean Momma July 15, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    Well duhhh!
    Now where is the justice for Professor Joel Lewis?

  • dhamilton2002 July 16, 2016 at 7:52 am

    After reading the Dixie University statement I’d say those who testified for the defense might have a case for libel against DSU. The statement published clearly accuses some of the witnesses of perjury and unless DSU can prove this they may have opened themselves up to more lawsuits!

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