Wednesday, February 16, 2011
OC Weekly 1st Update: Jesse Cheng's response
UPDATE, FEB. 16, 4:43 P.M.: Before we get to the meat of this post--an interview with UC Student Regent Jesse Chengabout his arrest for allegedly trying to rape a UCLA graduate student in his apartment near UC Irvine and the reaction to that news--we pause for a brief word from the Orange County district attorney's office (OCDA).
Cheng was on the UCI campus when I called him today. After he ducked into a quiet corner so we could speak, I asked for his comment on Tuesday's New University article with a woman's explosive allegations against the UC student regent and Asian American studies major.
"Well, first of all, I'm innocent," Cheng wanted to make clear. "It was a messy relationship. It was a really bad breakup."
Of the attempted rape allegation, Cheng said, "Nothing of the sort" happened.
But the New U reported e-mails exist between Cheng and his alleged victim, identified as "Laya," in which he is said to have apologized for attacking his former girlfriend of a year.
"The police have all that," Cheng explained, "and they said there was no evidence, nothing to push forward a case. There were no charges because nothing happened."
For now, Cheng has no plans to step down as student regent before his term ends in July.
"That would be an admission of guilt," he said. "People have mentioned that students need to trust their student regent. If it's true, if it's not true, students still have to believe the person serving them. It's a fair question to ask."
For now, the University of California is trusting Cheng, at least until the results from a UCI Office of Student Conduct investigation are in. "This is a student matter that is being handled by the campus in accord with standard processes covered by student privacy laws," Steve Montiel, UC President Mark Yudof's president, told the Bay Area's Bay Citizen. "While there is no indication that any of this has anything to do with Jesse Cheng's position as a regent, this matter also is being reviewed by UC's senior vice president-chief compliance and audit officer." That officer's job will be to ensure the campus investigation was fair, not whether the allegations against Cheng were true, Montiel added.
When I mentioned to Cheng that nothing I read about him before his arrest had painted him as the type of "player" one could see caught in middle of attempted rape allegations, Cheng broke out in a laugh before responding, "No. Not at all. Not even close."
He quickly shifted to a more serious tone. "I'm a man, and I recognize in this society, men have a lot of privileges. Violence against women is a serious issue. Throughout my college career, I have stood up against violence against women."
Given his stands, did it ever occur to him he would find himself in his current situation?
"No. It's mind-blowing," he said. "I mean, really, I was suddenly taken by surprise. I'm a very straight-edge kind of dude. I don't drink, I don't smoke. I have constantly been shocked by this. . . . I also want to say that while I'm innocent, I don't want this case to be reflective of other cases of violence against women, which does exist."
Because it exists, he understood why he was arrested before his accuser's allegations could be fully investigated.
"She came to police," he said. "They did their due diligence. They also released me without charges. . . . I'm not holding anything against anyone. I totally understand."
Since the allegations got out Tuesday, Cheng said the reaction to him on the UCI campus has been "a heavily mixed bag."
"There's been a good amount of support," he said. "I'm grateful for that. A lot has come from people I've worked with in the past. . . . But a good many people are confused by it. I don't hold that against them--how could I?"
When asked if anyone whispers to another as he walks by, Cheng replied, "There have been a number of people looking at me. It's very scary at times. Actually, I'm kind of scared shitless."
To the claims of Laya and some who have commented to the online coverage that Cheng wields power that has silenced his enemies and kept the incident out of the media for months, Cheng asked, "Do you want to be super-real?"
Go for it, Mr. Student Regent.
"Trust me, this post doesn't have power to do anything," he said. "I don't know why they waited so long [to release news of his arrest], but I have no power to stop it. I can't even stop a fee increase from happening. . . . Politically, no one's protecting my ass. . . . Last year, people were graffiting on my door over the fee increase. I couldn't even stop that. . . . I have no influence over that case; I do not even have enough power to defend my innocence."
Cheng said he has had no contact with Laya since last October. While he claims he had no direct knowledge she would go public with the allegations at this time, he did admit to having a nagging sense something bad "was coming down the line."
"When the New U contacted me, I was scared shitless to say anything. I knew a student conduct investigation was going on, so I didn't think I could comment," he said. "Plus, I might say something stupid."
Once the news did hit, Cheng had no idea things would get this "crazy."
He said he does not blame the newspaper for reporting the allegations; he even credited the student journalists for "doing their due diligence." But to fill in some of the blanks from the news coverage, he plans to issue a full statement--once he has time to wrap his head around it all.
"I wish people heard the whole story before jumping to judgment," Cheng said. "It was a bad breakup. This is not even the result of a miscommunication. Nothing of the sort happened."
He did not want to speculate why Laya chose to go public, saying, "I don't want to villainize her. I don't think that would be fair to her."
He said he has no current plans to take legal action against the messengers.
"You know, a lot of people have talked about it," Cheng said. "I'm going to be real: It's a campus newspaper. I support the work they do. I might not like it, I might think this was a harsh article, but I support the work they do."
He did add one caveat. "If they go ahead and do something else . . . maybe."
Not that he has time to think about that right now.
"I'm literally just tying to pass Chinese," he said.
Full article here: