Former professor arrested for seventh time

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Former College of William and Mary government professor David Dessler will be brought to court Feb. 26 following charges of community-based program violation. COURTESY PHOTO / WIKIMEDIA

Former College of William and Mary government professor David Dessler was arrested for the seventh time Feb. 18 and is currently being held at the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail on charges of community-based program violation, which could include violating a probation agreement. His hearing for those charges, as well as for two older charges, is scheduled for Feb. 26 at the Williamsburg-James City County Courthouse.

College spokesperson Suzanne Clavet declined to comment on Dessler’s most recent arrest and referred questions to the Williamsburg-James City County Commonwealth Attorney.

This is the second time Dessler has been arrested since settling his lawsuit against the College in April 2018. He was arrested Aug. 16, 2018 on a charge of “failure to be of good behavior” from emails he sent to the College Aug. 13-15. These emails were framed as a violation of his probation agreement in which he agreed to be a good citizen, meet with his probation officer and maintain recommendations from a mental health care provider. After spending two weeks in jail, the judge determined that no crime had been committed. This arrest will be wiped from his record May 29, 2019.

Following his release, Dessler agreed to see a probation officer once a month until May 29, 2019, when the deferred case will finally be heard. This probation agreement led to his Feb. 18, 2019 arrest, for which a judge issued a capias warrant, a warrant ensuring his appearance in court, describing Dessler’s violation of a community-based program. It remains unclear what emails — or other actions — prompted this arrest.

Background

In October 2015, Dessler was placed on administrative leave after sending students in his government courses a series of cryptic emails. These emails detailed his experiences with mental illness as well as his plans for a student mental health initiative that he planned to launch. Both courses — Introduction to International Politics and Theories of the International System — were later assigned to other professors. Between February 2016 and January 2017, he was arrested on four charges of harassment by computer and one charge of failure to appear in court after allegedly sending emails that were “vulgar and obscene” to College officials. After spending 77 days in jail, four out of five of the charges were dropped.

After the charges were dropped, Dessler intended to rejoin the College’s faculty. He was, however, placed on “inactive” status Aug. 9, 2016. He then resigned after a 32-year tenure June 18, 2017. Approximately six months later, he filed a lawsuit against the College alleging that the school had violated his First Amendment right to free speech, declined to grant due process protections associated with termination and failed to provide reasonable accommodation for a disclosed mental disability.

April 23, 2018    before the first scheduled court date for the lawsuit — Dessler reached a settlement with the College. The suit was dismissed with prejudice, meaning that he is barred from bringing his case against the College to the court again. The settlement states that Dessler releases the university and the Commonwealth of Virginia from all liabilities, claims, actions, demands, damages and costs of “every nature.” The College does also not admit any wrongdoing in the settlement.

“This matter has been a (sic) long, complex and draining,” Clavet said in a press statement at the time. “The university has acted appropriately and compassionately from the beginning with Dr. Dessler. … Taking this matter to trial would have entailed significant emotional costs for our employees as well as financial costs for the university. It was time for closure.”

“This matter has been a (sic) long, complex and draining,” Clavet said in a press statement at the time. “The university has acted appropriately and compassionately from the beginning with Dr. Dessler. … Taking this matter to trial would have entailed significant emotional costs for our employees as well as financial costs for the university. It was time for closure.”

Contact with the College 

Dessler’s right to communicate with College officials has long been debated. Prior to the settlement of his case, Dessler was banned from campus and from communicating with individuals at the College except for those connected to his case, including former Chief Human Resources Officer John Poma and former University Counsel Deb Love. Again, the language of the settlement includes no reference to Dessler’s rights to contact College officials.

In November 2018, Clavet notified The Flat Hat that Dessler had violated the settlement agreement and had “disrupted university operations” through emails he sent to members of the campus community. At the time, Dessler was alerted through the College’s legal counsel that emails he sent to university-managed email accounts would be blocked.

One of Dessler’s initial charges, harassment by computer, was deferred to May 2019, meaning that a judge will not make a determination on that charge until May of this year. At the time he was released from jail in 2017, he was placed under probation with Colonial Community Corrections. In August 2018, he was arrested for violating a community-based program — meaning the probation agreement he had signed with Colonial Community Corrections.

Dessler’s Feb. 26, 2019 hearing will take place at 9:31 a.m. at the Williamsburg-James City General District Courthouse.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that College spokesperson Suzanne Clavet declined to comment on Dessler’s arrest. The article has been corrected to clarify that Clavet also referred questions to the Williamsburg-James City County Commonwealth Attorney.