Filthy Fitness 

Cal students: Beware a smooth-talking academic who asks to study your physique. Crime victims against Bush impeachment. Plus: Dammit, Planet! My editor made me.

To all you returning college boys, here's a piece of useful unsolicited advice: Beware a man claiming to be conducting a "fitness survey" who then takes you to a room and fondles your privates. He may not be legit.

Last month an Alameda County Superior Court judge issued a $340,000 arrest warrant for San Francisco resident Kevin Manasseh Simmonds, a 33-year-old Fulbright scholar with a doctorate in music from the University of South Carolina (home of the Gamecocks!), for eleven felony counts of sexual battery and one misdemeanor count of unauthorized possession of a university key.

On July 17, an honor-roll undergrad contacted university police after participating in what he suspected was a bogus fitness survey. The student was approached by a man who identified himself as "David Brown" and claimed to be doing research — not unusual at a university. "Brown" then took the student to a private room at Hearst Gym, for which he had a key (unwittingly given him by a student employee), and had the young man get undressed. During the "survey," Simmonds touched the student's groin area, according to a search warrant affidavit.

Police then asked Hearst Gym employees to be on the lookout for the fake fitness-surveyor. A few days later, a worker spotted Simmonds, and Cal cops detained him. Soon, the man was confessing to having pulled the scam on hundreds of victims over the past twelve years, and thirty within the last month, according to the warrant.

Simmonds told police he targeted Asian males around campus. After he brought them to a private room, he would allegedly have them disrobe, stand on a chair, and tilt their heads back with eyes closed. He would then feel up the guys and get himself off by rubbing up against the back of the chair, supposedly without his subjects noticing, the warrant says.

Looking for victims, Cal cops later called several numbers on Simmonds' cell phone. Seven of the first eight who provided statements identified him in a photo lineup and said he had taken them to empty rooms, not only at Hearst Gym, but also the Recreational Sports Facility, the Cesar Chavez Student Center, San Francisco State, and — what the? — Alta Bates hospital. But the story gets even weirder.

Assistant campus police chief Mitch Celaya says Simmonds got many victims' phone numbers and called them for follow-up appointments. The faux-fitness researcher lured them back by promising $50 or more — money he actually paid in a couple of instances. The assistant chief says the victims figured it was easy money for a fifteen-minute commitment. Still, how could clever Cal kids be so easily hoodwinked? Well, Simmonds was smooth, Celaya says, and he sounded like an academic — which he is. "If you've got the gift of gab and speak with some authority, as surprising as it seems, people can get duped," the assistant chief says.

Cal police arrested Simmonds back in July, but the district attorney cut him loose pending further investigation to identify additional victims. The alleged serial molester, who still wasn't in custody as of this writing, didn't return messages from Feeder left with his roommate. It appears he may have an alibi for some of his alleged transgressions. The warrant says several of Simmonds' victims first met him in March 2006. A spokesperson for the State Department, which oversees the Fulbright program, says Simmonds was in Singapore as a student fellow from October 6, 2005 to June 6, 2006.

In fact, Simmonds appears to have lived in many places over the past decade or so — making stops in Tennessee, South Carolina, Japan and, of course, Singapore. The stated goal of his Fulbright grant was to observe "the role of multiethnic music education at universities and community centers." Although music was his specialty, he also wrote poetry, including "The Rhythm of Rape," a piece published earlier this year in San Francisco's SoMa Literary Review, which begins with this stanza: She sees the strangled abundance in his jeans wet with adolescent filth. She'll fight until he kills her. She's decided.

War Crimes or Local Crimes?

Since only 5 percent of Berkeley voters are registered Republicans, there was a real question whether anyone would write an argument opposing the city's symbolic ballot measure demanding the impeachment of President George W. Bush and Veep Dick Cheney. Well, somebody did. The gist of their argument is simple enough: that the city council, which put the measure on the ballot, should pay more attention to local issues such as crime rather than engage in symbolic debates over things they can't control.

What's truly odd is the way a couple of the anti-impeachment guys from the South Campus neighborhood identified themselves.

Signers of ballot arguments usually list their occupations — pro-impeachment guy Jonathan Simon, for instance, wants voters to know he's "Associate Dean of Jurisprudence and Social Policy, Boalt School of Law, University of California-Berkeley." But, well, Russ Tilleman is currently between jobs, and besides, he and his neighbor Jonathan Tsang wanted to label themselves with more pizzazz: On the ballot, Tilleman self-identifies as "witness to Willis-Starbuck murder," while Tsang lists himself as "owner of car destroyed by drug dealer."

Last year Tilleman came home late one night to see paramedics attending to Dartmouth student and Berkeley High alum Meleia Willis-Starbuck, who police say was accidentally shot by her friend. Tsang, meanwhile, had his car ruined by the same guys, he claims, who allegedly ran over a Cal football player. "We decided to describe ourselves this way to show that we are not just speaking theoretically about the crime problems in Berkeley, that we personally have been affected by crime here," says Tilleman, a 47-year-old Cal alum who used to run a software business.

Tilleman says City Clerk Sherry Kelly initially balked at his and Tsang's chosen descriptors, but allowed them after being shown precedents for unusual titles, such as a woman who described herself as "a typical Berkeley resident" in the June primary, and a man who signed Proposition 90 as "eminent domain abuse victim."

"I think maybe Sherry considered our titles somewhat inflammatory, but democracy requires free speech," Tilleman says.

For the record, Tilleman says he is registered "decline to state," and has voted Democrat most of his life, but went for Bush in 2004 because he didn't like John Kerry. (Memo to Russ: Neither did most Democrats, but he was still better than the other guy.)

My Editor Made Me Write This

Feeder readers are perhaps aware there's not a lot of love lost between this paper and Becky O'Malley, the editor of the Berkeley Daily Planet. So it was no surprise when Feeder heard from his boss that O'Malley was mad about last week's item on her fight with local rabbis and the Anti-Defamation League. In the item, Feeder knocked her for agreeing to meet her antagonists on the condition it be in a public setting, which is a totally weird demand for a news editor. So my boss did what he usually does when he gets a call from a mad reader — he told me to talk to her.

If I were a real wiseass, I would have demanded O'Malley meet me at a public venue. But I didn't. On the phone, she criticized Feeder for not following journalistic etiquette and calling her before the item came out. I'd figured it was unnecessary since she'd given her side of the story in an editorial she ran in her paper.

Still, it never hurts to call, and as it turns out, O'Malley did eventually change her mind (albeit after Feeder's deadline), and says she'll now meet the angry mob in private if need be.

Courtesy, of course, is a two-way street — so the next time a certain Daily Planet columnist who has known me for years wonders in print why I have a beef with Ron Dellums, I'll be expecting a phone call from him.


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