The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

    SRJC employee placed on leave after allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor

    Production specialist for Santa Rosa Junior College’s Theatre Arts department, Ari Poppers, was placed on administrative leave after allegations of inappropriate contact with a minor surfaced on Facebook last week. Poppers, who had held the position since 2008, initiated the conversation with the supposed minor, who is actually a 25 year old Sonoma County resident and has chosen to remain anonymous. 

    “I grew up in a family of sisters, so I saw it as the youngest brother. I saw it my whole life, just weird creepy men hitting on my sisters, and it was just pretty annoying, and I never really felt like I could do anything about it,” Lexi said in an interview conducted by Santa Rosa Junior College’s student-run magazine, The Oak Leaf, for an article titled “SRPD investigates SRJC theatre arts employee Ari Poppers.”

    The post made by Lexi Sanderson, the 16 year old girl Poppers assumed he was talking to, included a video detailing their conversation. On multiple occasions, “Lexi” made Poppers aware of her age, to which in one instance, he responded, “Just keep telling me you’re 21 lol.”

    Despite being aware he was communicating with someone under the legal age of consent, Poppers still insisted on meeting in person.

    “I understand people find carrying the conversation weird, but it was truly to see what he would say if the opportunity presented itself,” Lexi said in the post, “In the end, Ari should have ended the conversation when I told him I was 16, instead he continued to be sexually explicit.”

    It was later revealed on Lexi’s Facebook page that this was not the first time Poppers has been inappropriate with younger women. A post from April 18 showcases two other instances of misconduct, in which former students of his recall him making inappropriate comments to and about girls during class and reaching out to them on dating sites. 

    One of the comments states, “I was told after reporting him that I would be told if anything happened to him and nothing was done. But I know there’s a paper trail at the school of students reporting him.” 

    A post from later the same day claims that he even went as far as referring to the underage girls in the department’s productions as “jailbait.”

    Many feel like the SRJC administration and the Theatre Arts department could have done more to prevent harassment from Poppers, especially after the first reports were made.

    “Department Chair Leslie McCauley is another person who should be held accountable. Complaints went through the Theatre Arts Dept. and went nowhere. Whoever is above the Theatre Chair is also culpable for not taking complaints seriously,” stated Facebook user Marianne Campbell.

    The school has its own way of dealing with these sorts of allegations, and the first step is administrative leave. However, for local law enforcement, that process isn’t as simple. The man posing as Lexi stated that he contacted the Santa Rosa Police Department and was told the incident is “not in their jurisdiction” and to contact SRJC’s police department. This is a direct contradiction to what SRJC spokeswoman Erin Bricker said in an email to The Press Democrat which stated, “the primary investigation is staying with the Santa Rosa Police Department.”

    “I gotta say for how straight forward this case is, it’s awfully hard to get in contact with someone willing to hold this guy accountable,” Lexi said on Facebook.

    Lexi is aware of the risk that nothing may happen to Poppers from a legal perspective, but he isn’t too worried about that.

    “It needs to be documented. In most cases, nothing happens to them under the law, but it still needs to be out there,” Lexi said in an interview with The Oak Leaf. “I gave Ari the chance to confide in someone close to him in hopes of that person holding him accountable moving forward, as well as completing an online class about how to deal with his sexual urges and carelessness. In the end he refused, so this [exposing Poppers on Facebook] was the only way.”

    In the end, Lexi hopes that Poppers will learn from his mistakes and for the public to know that these predators are hidden in plain sight.

    “I will let the Santa Rosa community decide what they think,” Lexi said, “but had this actually been a 16 year old girl, I think Ari could have really caused some damage!”

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