A Garden City Community College media instructor said a representative from the college president’s office was the only other person he knew of, other than himself and his media students, who was given access to footage that was used to make a video accusing GCCC Trustee Leonard Hitz of sexual harassment.

On May 16, an anonymous email account sent a link to a YouTube video of Hitz hugging, leaning in to speak to and patting the backs of female students at GCCC’s May commencement ceremony to all members of the GCCC Board of Trustees and several local media outlets, claiming his actions were inappropriate and constituted sexual harassment. The video was a string of edited clips of Hitz interacting with students, with superimposed circles tracking his motions and text such as “#HANDSY-HITZ” flashing on the screen.

GC3 Media adviser Daniel Reyes said recently that media students shot the original footage used to make the video.

Debbie Atkinson, executive assistant to GCCC President Herbert Swender, said she requested a link to the original commencement footage so it could be passed along to families of 2018 graduates. When asked who she gave the link to, she declined to comment. She also declined to comment any further on the subject.

The identity of the person or people who created, posted and emailed the video accusing Hitz to board members and media outlets is still not publicly known.

Within 24 hours of the video being posted, it was removed from YouTube due to copyright claims from GC3 Media, the college's student media organization. Hitz has refuted the characterization of his actions on multiple occasions, claiming the video was an attempt to push him off the Board of Trustees. Last month, three community members used the sexual harassment allegations as grounds for a proposed petition to recall Hitz from the board. The proposal was ultimately denied by Hamilton County Attorney Rob Gale.

Reyes said students recorded two angles of the ceremony: one from the back of the gym, which the athletic department used for the college’s overflow livestream, and another showing a close-up of the stage, which GC3 Media planned to put online later.

It was the latter shot, filmed from the crow’s nest above the stands in Conestoga Arena at the Dennis Perryman Athletic Complex, that Reyes recognized in the edited Hitz video. He said he had helped his student film the stage and knew that no one else was recording in that location or from that angle.

When the edited video surfaced, his students recognized the similarities. Reyes said one of his students interested in video, Josh Irsik, called him after seeing the video accusing Hitz. The two quickly submitted a copyright infringement notice to YouTube.

“(Irsik’s) like ‘What are we going to do?’ And I said ‘We got to get that down. We’re not going to let our GC3 Media video be used to attack anybody — period,’” Reyes said.

The use of the GC3 Media footage at that time was questionable in itself, Reyes said. At that point, he said, the raw footage had not been streamed or otherwise made available to the public. Students shot and stored it on a GC3 Media computer to be edited and placed online for families of graduates at a later date.

GC3 Media computers are password protected and updated every semester to keep information secure, Reyes said. GC3 Media students had access, but only a handful had an interest in video and knew how to find the footage, he said.

Reyes said Atkinson was the only person to whom he gave access to the footage outside the student media group.

Atkinson and then-Director of Public Relations and Marketing Kristi Tempel requested the footage, asking for it as soon as possible, Reyes said. Requests for photos or videos from other college departments are common, he said, so he didn’t think much of it. Because he thought Tempel, who resigned from her position in mid-May, had already stepped down, Reyes said he sent the footage only to Atkinson.

Tempel was one of three community members, along with American Warrior CEO Cecil O’Brate and American Warrior Production Superintendent Kevin Wiles, who spearheaded the failed attempt to petition for the ouster of Hitz from the Board of Trustees.

Reyes said Atkinson called him with the request for the footage, he edited it on a GC3 Media computer, uploaded it to YouTube as an unlisted link and then emailed the link to Atkinson. Reyes provided a copy of the email to The Telegram, which shows that Reyes sent the link to Atkinson on May 8, four days after the May 4 commencement ceremony. In an email, he asked her to let him know if she needed anything else. Atkinson responded the following morning, thanking Reyes for his help and for “sending us the link.”

GC3 students Cort Peterson, Dakota Britton and Catherine Baldwin saw Reyes working on the video, and Peterson and Britton had heard about a request from the president’s office. Peterson, Britton, Baldwin and GC3 Media student Danielle Miller said they never interacted with the footage of the stage in any way.

Reyes said all 13 GC3 Media students knew the password for and had access to the computer the footage was stored on. He said only the handful of students who were interested in video production would know where to find the file on the computer or how to edit it. Reyes said that due to that, his assessment of the character of his students and the fact many were busy with finals between the commencement ceremony and the edited video's posting, he did not believe any of his students were involved in making the video that accused Hitz or providing the footage to whoever did.

Reyes said the turnaround was too quick to include a GC3 Media watermark. The video’s unlisted status meant only those who had access to the link had access to the footage; it could not be searched or seen otherwise, he said. Once a YouTube user has access to a video, it can easily be downloaded and edited on other devices.

Given the circumstances, Reyes said when he saw the edited video criticizing Hitz, he did think of the exchange with Atkinson.

“Yeah, you know, your mind does tend to go that route,” he said, adding that if Atkinson were involved, he assumed she would have had to have reached out to someone with more video editing experience.

Atkinson confirmed in an email to The Telegram that she had asked Reyes for the footage around May 7. Like Reyes, she said the request was routine for the president’s office.

“Due to the very large crowds, several family and friends were unable to be seated in the overflow rooms at the May 4th commencement. The President’s Office was contacted regarding if and when a video of graduation would be posted or where they could go to view it,” Atkinson said in an email.

She said Reyes told her GC3 Media was in the process of editing the video of the stage, and it would be at least 48 hours before he could post it online. She confirmed she received his email containing the link on May 8.

The footage still has not been made public on the college’s YouTube or Facebook page.

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.