Weeks before SRJC trustee’s sudden resignation, he was accused of molesting a child
Jordan Burns had more than a year left in his term on the Santa Rosa Junior College Board of Trustees when he abruptly resigned three months ago.
In his Aug. 6 resignation letter, Burns said he and his wife had discovered a new freedom during the pandemic to work remotely, and they felt their opportunity to move out of west Sonoma County had come.
A Press Democrat investigation, however, found that just three weeks before Burns resigned, a 19-year-old former Santa Rosa Junior College student had emailed President Frank Chong alleging Burns had sexually abused him as a child, a charge Burns denies.
In his email, Adrian Cardenas said he had previously reported the alleged abuse to Sebastopol police and later filed a lawsuit against Burns. That lawsuit, filed in May 2020, remains active in Sonoma County Superior Court.
The Press Democrat generally does not name victims of sexual assault or child abuse, but Cardenas gave his permission.
In court filings and in response to written questions from The Press Democrat, Burns, 37, denied any inappropriate contact with Adrian, saying the allegations “are absolutely false and without a shred of truth.”
However, he did say the allegations played a role in his decision to leave.
“We have actively been looking for another location to move to for some time, and the letter to the JC was a factor, but was not a significant role in my decision,” he wrote to The Press Democrat.
Allegations reported to police
Chong forwarded Adrian’s allegations to Sebastopol police the day he received them, said Robert Henry, an attorney for the junior college. An ad hoc committee composed of three trustees began a quiet investigation of its own days later.
Sebastopol Police Chief Kevin Kilgore said in a statement to The Press Democrat that his department had received two reports concerning Burns: the first in January 2020 and the second July 14, 2021 — the day that Chong received Cardenas’ email. Kilgore said his department had not discovered sufficient evidence in either case to support recommending criminal charges.
Cardenas and his parents, Melissa and Leo Cardenas, say the police investigation was insufficient and deserves another look.
“Our case went into a file. But they still call it an open investigation,” Melissa Cardenas said. “I feel they let Adrian down and they let us down.”
The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensation for sexual assault, assault and emotional distress. Adrian, who said he kept quiet about the abuse for years and blamed himself, eventually decided to speak up.
“I didn’t tell anyone for so long because I blamed myself and felt like the whole thing was my fault,” he wrote in his email to Chong. “I’ve been depressed and suicidal on and off since 13 and have just started to get better within the last year.”
'A trusted friend’
On a few pieces of their shared story, Adrian and Burns agree. Burns’ mother had been friends with Melissa Cardenas’ mother, and they attended Analy High School together. Melissa and Burns knew of each other growing up, but they didn’t become friends until they were reintroduced in their twenties.
Burns said he got to know the rest of the Cardenas family by tutoring Adrian’s older sister.
He also said he and Melissa Cardenas were romantically involved sporadically across several years, and the end to their relationship was difficult.
“It ended with some jealousy from her and resentment from both her and Adrian as I moved on,” he said.
Burns said he believed the breakup was a factor in the allegations against him, but he did not elaborate.
Melissa denied she and Burns were ever in a relationship.
“Jordan and I were NEVER romantically involved,” she wrote in response to an emailed inquiry about her relationship to Burns.
Leo and Melissa Cardenas both said Burns would frequently offer to help out caring for Adrian, an arrangement that continued while Leo and Melissa were going through a divorce.
“He was a trusted friend back in the day,” Leo Cardenas said.
In middle school, Adrian began volunteering with a nonprofit called Children’s Humanitarian International, which Burns founded in 2010. The organization focused on providing educational opportunities for students in developing nations.
Adrian liked volunteering, he said, and was so dedicated that he was named Volunteer of the Year once.
But in 2014, he said, that Burns began sexually abusing him. He was 12 years old.
At the time, Burns was running for a seat representing the west county on the SRJC Board of Trustees, which governs the largest single education district in Sonoma County. He was reelected in 2018 and served as board president the year before he left.
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