Former Palo Alto teacher convicted of child sex abuse

Michael Airo found guilty of four felony charges

Ohlone Elementary School teacher Michael Airo has been found guilty of four felony child sex-abuse charges after a trial in Palo Alto. Photo by Veronica Weber.

After deliberating for about two days, a jury found former Palo Alto elementary school teacher Michael Airo guilty on Wednesday of sexually abusing a young girl more than 10 years ago.

The jury unanimously found Airo, 36, who taught at Ohlone Elementary School, guilty of four felony charges: continuous sexual abuse of a minor under the age of 14 and three counts of lewd or lascivious acts with the use of force, violence, duress, menace or fear of immediate and unlawful bodily injury on the victim or another person.

After the court clerk read each verdict aloud, defense attorney Michael Armstrong asked that Airo be permitted to stay out on bail due to, he argued, a lack of concern for public safety, his lack of criminal record and the low probability that Airo would fail to appear for a sentencing hearing.

Judge Allison Marston Danner ruled that Airo be immediately remanded without bail "in light of the nature of the convictions, the protection of the public and the fact that there is no right to bail after a felony conviction."

The jury found Airo guilty of sexually abusing his ex-girlfriend's young daughter while they lived together in a house in Palo Alto in the early 2000s. She testified that from fifth grade through eighth grade, Airo entered the bathroom while she was showering "many times" and would kiss on her on each breast, then each side of her stomach and then each of her buttocks. She did not report his actions at the time but eventually told a therapist in 2014, which sparked a criminal case that led to Airo's trial.

Airo denied all of the allegations during his testimony.

The jury foreperson declined to comment. The 12 jurors, one of whom had been replaced by an alternate, left the courthouse quickly after the verdicts were announced.

The case will now be sent to the probation department. A sentencing hearing has been set in Palo Alto for April 19.

Airo faces six, 12 or 16 years in state prison for the first charge and lifelong registration as a sex offender; and five, eight or 10 years for each of the latter three charges.


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57 people like this
Posted by Karen
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 14, 2018 at 4:20 pm

I don't understand the Michael Aero verdict and I am really concerned a serious injustice may have been done. The [portion removed] girl was asked over and over by her older sister if Mr. Aero was touching her here, there, or anywhere inappropriately and she always said no, for years she said no. The mother didn't notice anything wrong. Years later the girl, a young woman now, says he did touch her inappropriately. So it could be true that he did, but it could very well be true that the suggestion made over and over by the older sister influenced the younger one to believe that she was touched. This is a proven phenomenon and because of it, counselors no longer may ask such leading questions about abuse because these questions have given people false memories and destroyed lives. I am afraid the jury did not consider this -- there is definitely room for reasonable doubt when a victim has been asked, especially at a young age, over and over for years if a certain person touched her inappropriately. These questions leave one with images and feelings that can later feel like real memories. We can't be sure that justice has been done here. So sad.

24 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 14, 2018 at 5:02 pm

@karen. [Portion removed.] What does the victom gain from this.?? Ask yourself that KAREN. Injustice you say? I was a Therapist for 22yrs. I have heard everything. [Portion removed.] 12 jurors disagreed with your off the wall opinion. "images and feelings that can later feel like real memories." ??? [Portion removed.]

27 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 14, 2018 at 5:05 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

@Karen, so you think it's possible that the girl was convinced of these acts because her sister suggested it to be true? You don't think an 8th grader would remember that, "Airo entered the bathroom while she was showering "many times" and would kiss on her on each breast, then each side of her stomach and then each of her buttocks."?

Sounds to me like Airo belongs in prison. [Portion removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by Kathy Jordan
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 14, 2018 at 5:33 pm

Kathy Jordan is a registered user.

From a prior article on Michael Airo: Web Link

How much Smith knew about the case and at what point has become a sticking point for the district.

The district will be developing a policy to outline what steps should be taken in situations like this one, McGee said in February: "If there are police asking you about anything on your campus ... serious or not, someone from the district office — whether it's the chief academic officer or human resources director or me or the associate superintendent or the communications director — needs to know."

So did the District develop the policy Dr. McGee referenced above? If not, why not?

2 people like this
Posted by Get Right
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 15, 2018 at 3:08 pm

Get Right is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

17 people like this
Posted by navydad310
a resident of another community
on Feb 15, 2018 at 4:34 pm

navydad310 is a registered user.

Dear Karen,

With all due respect, you seem to misunderstand the issue of children and false memories. First of all, the cases you probably are referring to (e.g., the McMartin Case) involved much younger children and we know that young children's memories are much more fragmentary and malleable than those of older children. Second, the repeated questioning you refer to has to do with significant authority figures (therapists, police) repeatedly questioning young children and repeatedly suggesting things that might have happened. There is no evidence whatsoever that having a sister ask if something has happened, even if she asks repeatedly, will result in false memories, especially when the child being questioned is the age that this young woman was at the time. What we do know, with tons of evidence, is that children in these abusive situations are unlikely to disclose the abuse for all sorts of reasons. The scientific and clinical evidence suggests that it is highly unlikely that this young woman developed false memories, and her behavior (denying and not reporting for many years) is consistent with what we know about sexual abuse survivors. I am a clinical psychologist with decades of experience and I can assure you that your comments are not accurate. I suggest that if you want to comment on a topic like this, you do some homework first.

24 people like this
Posted by ScientistPsychologis12
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 15, 2018 at 8:25 pm

ScientistPsychologis12 is a registered user.

Dear All,

I wish to inform you that Karen is 100% correct, injustice has occurred. Maybe one should do their research and know the facts of the case before commenting on whether someone is guilty or innocent. Based on the facts of the case and Scientific Studies both within the U.S. and internationally, Karen’s phenomena is a real issue that California’s Strict regulations enhances the possibility of. Because allegations of child molestation are taken very seriously by law enforcement, they should be treated carefully to deter false accusations from leading to a guilty verdict. This case was taken seriously and aggressively by the written police report, school that dismissed him within 5 days of allegations, and an aggressive District Attorney Lawyer who instructed her accusers/ victims to change their allegations many times toward a story that sounded good. A lack of concrete evidence and the acts of dismissing all placed forth by the defense led to a conviction. There was a reasonable doublt here but that doubt and all other evidence was dismissed. In reality, scientific evidence proves that due to the emotionally traumatic nature of child molestation, children may have altered or repressed memories about their experiences that prevent them from accurately remembering what has occurred; especially if suggestive questioning persists in general which creates the idea in the childs mind or if the child was in fact molested but not by the accused defendant. Another possibility is that her known difficult childhood before MCA, may have consisted of this molestation and maybe the 11-year-old child falsely remembered the culprit of the acts to be MCA due to her sister’s suggestive questioning fueled by her obvious distain for MCA. Maybe you all should research the scientific evidence as well as the facts of the case before laying your judgement on the internet.

6 people like this
Posted by Well done Lindsay Walsh
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 16, 2018 at 7:47 am

Well done Lindsay Walsh is a registered user.

The jury convicted Airo on all counts. He now faces a lengthy term in prison and Judge Danner took him into custody immediately.

This should be contrasted with Judge Persky's handling of the Brock Turner case. In that case, the jury also found him guilty on all counts. However, when the DA asked for Turner to be remanded, his mother started screaming and stamping her feet and Judge Persky allowed him to go home to Ohio FOR THREE MONTHS after his conviction prior to sentencing.

In retrospect that made it clear that Persky did not plan to sentence Turner to prison, since if he was looking at prison it would have made more sense for him to do the first three months of his time in County Jail and receive credit off his prison sentence and thus shorten his time in state custody.

How many poor and black and brown mothers have cried in court as their sons were taken away, only to be told that they would be locked up or ejected for making a scene? Lots of minority mothers would know not to make a scene in fact for fear of not getting a contact visit before their sons were taken away -- and for far less than Brock Turner did.

The fact that Carlene Turner yelled and screamed and stamped her feet and the system said "oh, my yes your boy can go home with you he's not really a sex offender," says it all -- and that is why Persky is being recalled. That is white privilege, Stanford privilege, and every other kind of privilege.


13 people like this
Posted by ScientistPsychologis12
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 16, 2018 at 8:32 am

ScientistPsychologis12 is a registered user.

First of all, the Jury deliberated less than two days for a highly complex case regarding incidents that allegedly occurred decades ago, the reprimand is for up to 40 years and the deliberation interval of time seems inadequate to me, it seems to me they wanted to leave by noon knowing it was Feb 14th, 2018 and Valentine's day. Then the Judge makes her notion. Your comparison with a different case means nothing, this sentencing for a crime is uncalled for because there is reasonable doubt and it was not proven the incidents occurred in the first place. The minority card is inapplicable here. What is important is did we send an innocent man to imprisonment for up to 40 years.

14 people like this
Posted by Lennie
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 16, 2018 at 8:44 am

Lennie is a registered user.

Michael Airo may or may not be guilty of molesting ???. Note that her privacy is protected while his reputation is ruined for life regardless of his guilt or innocence and irrespective of his sentence which has yet to be determined. As I read the charges against him, i am not surprised that he was convicted on the first charge but the other 3 charges related to threats and violence seem very unreasonable. However, even more unreasonable are the potential sentences. He could be sentenced to decades in prison for a crime in which no one was killed, no one was permanently injured or disfigured. It's no surprise that the USA has the world's largest prison population. The US "justice" system is a blood thirsty system that imposes unreasonable punishment on people who make a mistake or break the rules. At the same time, police can kill unarmed suspects and walk free.

9 people like this
Posted by navydad310
a resident of another community
on Feb 16, 2018 at 8:56 am

navydad310 is a registered user.

Sigh. "Scientific Psychologist" gets it wrong, also. This is not the place for a debate on the literature regarding false memories or implanted memories (including "recovered" memories), but I can assure you that the extensive evidence on false memories does not support the accusation that this woman's memories are false or implanted. The conditions necessary to implant extensive, detailed memories spanning years simply do not exist here. Also, does anyone really think that the defendant's defense team was so incompetent that they never considered a false memory defense? Do Karen and "Scientific Psychologist" believe that they are more competent defense attorneys than the defendant's? The reason this defense was not used is because it has no basis in the facts of the case. It is not enough to simply assert that people can develop false memories so that produces a reasonable doubt. You have to provide evidence that the memories of this particular woman are false and you can't do that because the evidence doesn't exist. I can just as easily assert that some psychologists will provide unsupported opinions in order to advance an ideological agenda or because they are paid by a defense or prosecution team, therefore we should dismiss all testimony by psychologists that don't agree with our beliefs.

But don't believe me, either. If you want to form a reasonable conclusion on this topic, you are going to have to do a lot of studying and you'll have to weed out the polemical and ideological stuff and the poor science that permeates this topic. Good luck.

11 people like this
Posted by ScientistPsychologis12
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 16, 2018 at 9:19 am

ScientistPsychologis12 is a registered user.

Who are you to judge my statements as incorrect Navydad? Are you all knowing? If this is not a place to debate, then do not participate in this depate, although I value your perspective and thoughts. The accusation that the women’s memories are false and implanted is simply a form of reasonable doubt, for it can happen. As you noted this phenomena could mean she was molested earlier than age 11. Based on her family history, completely not discussed during the case, could have meant she was in fact molested at an earlier age by another person, not the defendant. You do not know all the details of both sides so how can you comment on this. As noted, statistics and scientific research shows this phenomena is a real this that happens more that people like to believe. If reasonable doubt exists and no evidence of the incidents occurring exist, then may one should not be convicted. Yes, the defense attorney was sick that week, coughing throughout the courtroom events, very submissive, and did not ask important questions. Just read his public made statements online, they are submissive and factual but not the aggressive nature of the accusers, the DA on the other side, the School board who dismissed MCA, or the Police officer who wrote the original police report. This reasoning was not used because the Defense Lawyer did not think of it as Karen and I have. [Portion removed.]

Overall this phenomena assert one example of a reasonable doubt although there are many more. The accuser must provide evidence to accuse someone of acts. Innocent until proven guilty right? If the case was unequitable, no evidence proves the incidents occurred, no evidence proves he did the crimes, or any reasonable doubt exists… one cannot convict the individual. Maybe the appeals process will dive further into the details for us. Accuser must provide evidence that the memories are true, not the way around. Innocent until proven guilty. Thank you for your thoughts.

9 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 16, 2018 at 3:13 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

@Scientist... As you said "innocent until proven guilty". That's exactly what happened.

A judge and jury disagree with you. It does t matter that you think they didn't deliberate long enough or what things "seem" to you. The people with the facts made their decision.

Feel free to file an appeal on Airo's behalf

8 people like this
Posted by ScientistPsychologis12
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 16, 2018 at 7:45 pm

ScientistPsychologis12 is a registered user.

As I noted above, he was not proven guilty. I am sure there will be an appeal. We shall be forced to wait and see.

6 people like this
Posted by CGMomof4
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 17, 2018 at 5:13 pm

CGMomof4 is a registered user.

Sorry, I agree with Karen. I am a mom of 4 mostly grown girls and I think children are pliable when young and a dream/thought can evolve into something the child can believe as a strong/real memory. As a nurses aid myself for over 30 years with MH/MR youth in home settings, I have seen young children come out of such troubled home settings that they accuse and manipulate adults with lies. For them fantasy and reality blend. It is not even a question of a lie. They believe the fantasy and it is becomes reality to them. The sister’s questions could have led to dreams that felt real and vivid and the young lady could have been unable to tell the difference. It is inevitable that the questions influenced her sister. I put more weight on the mother's testimony here and feel she would have known something or saw but she did not. Mom's know when things feel weird and as a victim myself of rape I feel the mother would have known if things were weird. Some kids are scary in their ability to manipulate adults and maybe she knew the older sister to be jealous, we don’t know. Young adults blatantly lie to get adult attention or cover other bad behavior, say totally inaccurate things for attention or money. I do not believe in blaming any victim, but I also think we have no proof on the adult here either. He says he didn't do this. I put some weight on his testimony and defense too. They should mean something. [Portion removed.] This young man’s reputation is crushed. Based on my knowledge, I believe he didn't do it.

He has worked for years since as an excellent teacher. [Portion removed.] There is no way to get this young man his reputation back now that we crucified him. He took the stand saying he did not do it. I think for me it speaks volumes to his character because most accused would not take the stand and do not have too. He did so for us, not because he had to in any way. I hope he can stand tall and gain respect for doing so. I think he is innocent and needs a chance to come back from this. I hesitate to throw him under the bus when there are so many other things to consider.

[Portion removed.]

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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