SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- A 12 News investigation has uncovered evidence that Dr. Patricia Evans, who has connections to a student who committed suicide, has a history of verbally abusing students that spans decades.
A deadly grade
12 News first brought you the tragic story of Kendra Parton’s suicide in February. According to her parents, she committed suicide as a result of being bullied by her instructors at Scottsdale Community College.
Parton left a paper trail detailing the abusive behavior of instructor Barb Hanes and Evans, the Equine Science program director. Records show that Hanes and especially Evans berated her, tore her to pieces, treated her like she was "the most worthless piece of garbage in the gutter" and were going to fail her for her poor presentation so she could not graduate.
Parton’s last communication from Evans – an email – said: "If you feel that the past two years were a waste of your time, then maybe it was." Just a short time later, Parton pulled the trigger and ended her life.
Tip of the proverbial iceberg
Records show that Evans has a history of verbal abuse, intimidation and harassment against her students. We discovered a pattern in her career – when complaints pile up, Evans exits to the next unsuspecting college.
Eventually, she ended up at Scottsdale Community College. Evidence also suggests that SCC may not have conducted a full background check before hiring Evans as the Equine Science program director.
Did SCC know about her history? And if it had known before hiring Evans, would they still have hired her?
In February Scottsdale Community College issued a statement to 12 News that said Kendra Parton’s instructors Hanes and Evans had the best of intentions for her and that their dialogue with the 20-year-old student was "direct," which is in stark contrast to what a 12 News investigation uncovered. What the school defined as direct, those who've exited the program prefer to call verbal abuse.
And since the original 12 News report on the heartbreaking story of Kendra Parton’s suicide in late February, a number of former students have come forward to talk about how Evans verbally abused them until they quit school.
“Relatable, like getting to that point where you feel so belittled that you make those choices. I quit the program. That was my choice,” Amber Salas said.
For Kendra Parton's family the burden of these revelations is far too much to bear.
Dave and Wendy Parton told their daughter Kendra they would get the situation rectified by going to the Dean of Academic and Student Affairs at Scottsdale Community College. Trouble was brewing between Kendra and her instructors.
Her parents allege Hanes and Evans were displaying classic signs of abusive and bullying behavior towards the 20-year-old student. Kendra was an honor student on a scholarship at SCC and on track to graduate in May 2012 with an Associate of Arts Degree in Equine Science. In her last semester she just had to pass her classes and get at least a “C” on her internship to be able to graduate on May 11, 2012.
Forty percent of her grade in the internship would hinge on a power point presentation in front of the Equine class, Hanes and Evans. Records show that behind closed doors Evans and Hanes had scathing comments about Kendra’s presentation. Piercing words, her parents say, that ultimately had fatal consequences for their daughter -- an articulate, unselfish, beautiful girl whose dreams of graduating were crushed.
ORIGINAL STORY: Mesa family says professor's bullying led to daughter's suicide
There she lay
On May 9, 2012, Wendy and Dave Parton arrived home from work around 6:30 p.m. -- Wendy just a few minutes behind her husband. Dave went inside but couldn’t find his daughter.
Both of their grown children lived at home. Kendra’s older brother Shane was 21 at the time. Kendra and Shane were supposed to go get haircuts together – a family ritual. That day Kendra sent Shane a text message at 3:51 p.m. telling him not to go without her because she wasn’t feeling well.
So Kendra was supposed to be resting at home. Dave checked her room and the rest of the house. He finally found Kendra’s lifeless body on the back patio. It’s an image he says he will never get out of his mind and one he’s never been able to put into words.
According to the Mesa police report, Kendra was laying in a pool of blood, wearing a white t-shirt, blue shorts and white ankle socks. She’d shot herself in the head with a Glock pistol, a weapon in the home that was intended for the family’s protection.
“I started screaming and wanted God to take it away because it couldn’t be real,” Dave said.
He didn’t want his wife to see her daughter like that, so he called the neighbor for help. The police report said that when the officer arrived at their home, Dave and another man were holding Wendy back from going out to the patio as she sobbed uncontrollably.
Dave took Wendy to the neighbor’s house and waited for family members to arrive. Mesa Police victim assistance workers arrived and found a sobbing mother gasping for air. Concerned that Wendy was going to pass out, the report shows the neighbor called the Mesa Fire Department for help. Wendy was given a pillow and blanket from Kendra’s bedroom to try to console her.
Dave told Mesa police that his daughter was “very upset” and “depressed” after her instructors “belittled” and “humiliated” her following her internship presentation at school. He said she was told she was going to receive a “D” for the course and consequently would not graduate in two days.
Dave says to this day he’s a broken man. “It’s still something I’m working out.”
PHOTOS: Bullied, belittled, berated
Three women came forward to share their experiences with Evans and agreed to speak on camera to 12 News. Susan Carland, Jaz Schulte and Amber Salas were all enrolled in the SCC program at one time under the tutelage of Evans. All of them dropped out. They all say they quit the program because of Evans. Several others also contacted us sharing similar stories but were afraid to speak publicly for fear of retribution and concerns they would not get a fair shake during judging at various horse shows around the valley if they challenged the establishment. The horse world they say, characterized as a close-knit community, where everybody knows everybody.
The mother of one former student told us this after watching Kendra Parton’s story; “My daughter is living the same nightmare with the Equine Science Department. She quit after almost two years because of being bullied and humiliated after giving her speech. I complained and nothing came of it. Now to find out SCC was aware of this and did nothing. I’m so upset right now. She’s been depressed and has had little to do with her horses since this happened. She had to change her career path because of one instructor. This is not right. A girl died and they did nothing.”
Documents show the head of the department was made aware of it shortly after it happened. SCC actually paid a private law firm $10,000 to investigate the matter.
Some experts and those involved in the horse world told us female instructors in fields associated with horses can be rather tough, and sometimes it seems there’s a culture of meanness and abuse associated with some instructors and women in other positions related to horses. But Salas, Schulte and Carland literally had no idea what was in store despite the fact two of the three women had been around horses since they were small children.
Carland is a former Mesa Woman of the Year and sat on the Mesa Community College Red Mountain Advisory Board. She says she was raised on a ranch in New Mexico and has been around horses most of her life.
As she moved into semi-retirement she’d planned to work with mustangs that the BLM brought off the range and put up for auction but says she realized she’d need an equine degree to get a job like that. But Evans she claims would stand in her way ultimately resulting in her dropping out of the program.
Speaking about Evans, Carland said that constructive criticism was non-existent.
“Criticism was the norm, usually in a loud, bullying manner. I found her mean, cruel and demeaning,” she said.
Carland recalled one instance when she said she was sitting on a corral fence while trying to lunge a horse. She remembered Evans yelling at her, “What is wrong with you? Are you stupid or just drunk?”
Carland, a mature student in her late 60’s at the time, said she was determined not to let Evans get under her skin. But claimed she witnessed the younger students struggling with a continual barrage of negativity.
“There were a couple that were just reduced to tears on a regular basis,” said Carland.
She said by November 2011 she’d had enough of what she characterized as “abuse” and dropped the class along with two other students.
Schulte – a former attorney – also grew up around horses. Despite that, she proved to be no match for Evans.
Schulte attended SCC in the fall of 2012, months after Parton committed suicide. While she did not know Kendra, she says she heard stories about her death.
“I can say based on my experience, I’m not surprised. If she could get to me the way she did and I was an attorney, and the kind of attorney that actually went to court a lot. And then I did business-to-business sales for attorneys and in the big government segment. I’m used to getting beat up a little bit. This woman reduced me to tears. That’s hard to say,” Schulte said.
Schulte added that Evans made her feel inadequate and made her doubt herself.
“I would wake up in the morning with a knot in my stomach and think, ‘I just I don’t know if I can go in there today.’ But I had to. You can’t miss a day, you know, unless you’re dead,” she said. “So, having that perpetual knot in my stomach, that anxiety, starting to have panic attacks and if that can happen to me, it’s no shock at all that it would do something so much worse to someone in their early twenties.”
Schulte described one incident in which she claims Evans unleashed on her without provocation.
“She said, ‘Look are you here to learn or not? I mean who do you think you are?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I'm here to learn.’ She said, ‘You know what, you're just disruptive. You need to just, just go away.’ I said, ‘I'm trying to.’ She said, ‘Just shut up. I don't want to hear it,’” Schulte said.
SCC has repeatedly maintained Evans’ priority is to keep her students safe. But Schulte, who has 40 years of experience around horses, said that’s all smoke and mirrors, a façade which enables Evans to abuse her students under the guise of keeping everyone safe.
Schulte says Evans would jump in, take over and throw you aside, “as if you were some mortal danger.”
“Hearing ‘You’re bad,’ ‘You’re stupid,’ ‘You don’t know what you’re doing,’ ‘Get out’ ‘and ‘You’re in the way.’ She would just immediately go into yelling, calling people idiots. ‘I don’t know why you’re here. Are you sure you’re in the right place because it sure looks to me like you’re lost,’” said Schulte.
She added that Evans made the environment less safe, not more.
“When you're working with 1000-1200 pound animals, yelling, screaming, causing tension, high emotions, people crying, that's an incredibly unsafe environment,” said Schulte.
And it wasn't just her.
“Everyone's feeling afraid. Who's next, who's going to get yelled at next? Who's going to screw up next, you know and I feel that that's dangerous,” she said.
According to Schulte, it was beyond not educating.
“It was actually deprogramming. It was actually destabilizing people. It was teaching them to doubt themselves,” she said.
At the time she dropped out, Salas was a single mother who was trying to better herself. She had received a government grant to be able to attend the Equine Science program. Under duress, records from SCC show she quit the program in the fall of 2014.
Salas recounted one incident during Evans’ Stable Management class:
“We were dealing with weanlings and we took them all out for walks and as soon as they got out they started freaking out. Which is not unusual, they could hurt us. And rule number one, before we even let them out, Evans said don't let go of the horse. That's rule number one, don't let go of the horse. And all the horses started freaking out and my horse started to freak out. And I did not let go of that, I didn't let go. She was freaking out and I held onto it because rule number 1 was don't let go of the horse. So I didn't. She had enough room to kick and jump and everything and she wasn't dragging me around, she didn't touch me. And once I got her to calm down then Dr. Evans started screaming at me. Rule number 1 was don't let go of the horse. I didn't want to break her number 1 rule.”
Salas would continue going to class but says she was traumatized by the way Evans treated her during that incident. So much so, she sought out medical intervention and went to her doctor.
“We actually looked into the options of medication to try to get me through this class. My anxiety was so high that it was an option, I actually considered it. I'm low income and so I was able to get a grant to try to better myself and that's what I had to go through,” said Salas.
Landmines in Evans’ past
Records from her past show that Evans was lauded for her knowledge, was a competent teacher described as hard but fair, but lacked people skills. Records suggest her ascension in the world of academia was plagued with problems.
Evans listed Clemson University on her application to SCC. That’s where she was awarded her Ph.D. and lectured from 1996 to 2004. When asked on the application if SCC could check with her employer, Evans checked the box, "No." So records suggest the school only verified that she actually worked at Clemson.
Had SCC obtained her personnel file, hiring administrators would have discovered what we did pages upon pages detailing incidents of negative or aggressive interactions with students and colleagues. The problems didn’t start at the beginning of her employment but began to surface and escalate shortly afterwards.
In February 2000, Bill Wehrenberg, Dean of the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences, wrote that Evans needed to improve her interpersonal skills with all students. That same month, a memorandum from Tom Scott, Interim Chair of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, revealed that Evans needed to adopt more sensitive approaches in her classes.
In 2002, another evaluation revealed problems popped up regarding her interactions with students, colleagues and research faculty. In her March 2002 evaluation, evaluator Johnny Jordan, Director of Clemson’s Farm Management, accused her of costing the university a $300,000 grant because she couldn't get along with other research faculty and was "rude and antagonistic" to committee members.
He wrote that Evans, “Has extreme difficulty in getting along with staff and colleagues” and has alienated some committee members and almost everyone she works with. Jordan also said that Evans made allegations concerning a faculty researcher that was “very demeaning” and questioned the integrity of the researcher. Jordan further wrote, “The allegations proved to be untrue.” Evans disputed the evaluation saying Jordan had a complete change in attitude towards the Equine Center and her since she had a problem with another individual.
There were also issues with Evans’ interactions with her students. Confidential student appraisals revealed issues regarding student-instructor interactions.
All the while, records show she continued to be reappointed for several years for having done a good job preparing students for positions in the equine and related industries.
However, during this time, she was described as inflexible and dedicated but over-demanding. Records also show that some of her students said they didn’t feel welcome in equine classes unless they were already accomplished riders or plan to make a career with equines. Documentation from Clemson shows evidence of abuse and intimidation.
In 2004, another evaluation concluded that Evans lacked interpersonal skills but discussions with her had improved the situation.
Evans tendered her resignation from Clemson University on June 1, 2004, indicating she had been offered and accepted a position elsewhere. She terminated her employment on July 2, 2004.
Utah State University: Where verbal abuse took center stage
The position she accepted was at Utah State University, a public research university located in Logan, Utah. USU was founded as the state’s agricultural college.
Evans was hired as an associate professor in 2004. Here, complaints about her behavior seemingly got worse. All the while, she was being considered for tenure and promotion in the Department of Animals, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences.
From the onset of her time in Utah there were issues. One document shows that several students were interested in the equine program until they met Evans, reading that, “Upon meeting with Dr. Evans, the students decided to take the swine course instead of the equine courses because they could not see eye to eye with the instructor.”
Local 4-H leaders also had concerns about Evans. Records show they had her judge a horse show and they ended up pulling Evans aside because of her behavior. The 4-H leaders had to remind her that these were little kids and she needed to be a lot less critical of the small things and concentrate on the big picture.
The record states, “Pat made 8 year-old 4Hs feel very badly.” It further states they would not ask for her help again.
During this time, a male student who worked in the department’s farm lodged a complaint alleging bias and sexism by Evans. He indicated that Evans alienated her students and complicated the student’s ability to balance life, school and work, while also making no accommodations for students when they experience circumstances beyond their control.
He concluded his letter by writing, "There is something inherently wrong with someone who treats people this way when they are hired to work with the public and students."
In another incident, one of Evans’ female students was nearly reduced to tears. The young woman told administrators on one particular occasion she felt like crying after comments Evans made to her during a judging practicum. She would go on to say that Evans verbally shot her down on a number of occasions so she chose to no longer interact with her instructor. The student said Evans was, “very stern and strict and intimidating” and that there was no give or respect.
Another female student went to speak with Evans about the class and documented that she was greeted with a cold reception. She wrote: “Pat said, ‘I don’t like people like you because they feel they know everything’ and she would rather have students who knew nothing as they don’t have a formed opinion.” The young woman also wrote that Evans was “very callous.”
From that point on the student never had any sort of relationship with Evans and avoided having to talk to her.
Unfair in personal situations: No compassion
Records show that in 2005 when the same student’s father was on his death bed in Wisconsin, Evans made no accommodations for her to get through the class while other professors did. In fact, the record shows the student said Evans told her there was to be an exam and if she left she would get a zero on the exam.
When the student returned to school three weeks later, she only had two days to study for the final exam. Evans told her to take it anyway but provided no additional study time, wouldn't arrange for the student to take the exam later, and refused to give her an incomplete grade.
The student’s father passed away after she returned to school from Wisconsin. In addition, she had some personal concerns with one of her children. Hoping for some compassion and support, instead the student wrote Evans commented to her, “That for these reasons she never had a family and commented that you must choose between school and family.” The young woman told administrators that would be the last time she would ever take a class with Evans.
The records we obtained from USU show at least 15 complaints. They included that Evans was “condescending and engaged in intimidation tactics.” Another said, "Dr. Pat Evans talks down to students and when questions were asked in class the student was made to feel stupid."
A 2006 letter to Mark Healey, Head of the Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences, shows trouble was brewing. It said students were talking among themselves and avoiding taking her classes. It implied that administrators were concerned because enrollment in her ADVS 2190 class dropped from 39 students one semester to just 15 the next.
‘Fire her ass’
More than a dozen students began a movement at USU to have Evans removed. During a trip, 10 students told Dale Zobell, chair of the department, to "fire her ass." A faculty member wrote in her review, "It will not be possible to build an equine program at USU if Pat Evans stays on."
Another blemish in the records revealed that Evans was accused of belittling a male student to her horse management students and then talking behind his back to other students. Evans had no recollection of this, according to the record.
In her 2006 review, common themes for suggested course improvements included eliminating her “intimidation” of students for "giving reasons."
When confronted with the complaints, Evans was "quite surprised" and realized she needed to be more sensitive when speaking to others. She assured her employer she would work on it.
On track for a tenured position, in June 2011 Evans once again resigned, indicating she had accepted the position of Equine Science Program Director at Scottsdale Community College, effective August 2011.
We tried to ask Evans about her departure from USU, but she would not answer our questions.
How does someone with this sort of history get hired at SCC? When we asked USU, head of communications Tim Vitale said neither the former department head or the dean remember any calls to check on Evans’ background.
The Parton's believe this created the perfect storm.
“Our daughter was not protected by the limits on someone's behavior,” Dave Parton said.
As of now, Evans is still employed at SCC, which continues to back its beleaguered program director. She is currently out on long-term medical leave.
We tried to get Evans side of the story but she would not speak with us under any circumstances.
“I don’t want to see anyone else get hurt and I truly believe in my heart more people will be hurt, a lot of them young people who have so much potential,” said Schulte.
We asked SCC spokesperson Nancy Neff for an on-camera interview with SCC President Jan Gehler but was told the odds were “not good.” In fact, during the course of our reporting into this matter, no one from the college or the district would agree to speak with us on-camera. Instead, Neff said we were welcome to submit questions. So we did.
Here are our questions to SCC.
1. Did you know Evans has a history of verbal abuse against her students and engaged in intimidation tactics against her students and colleagues at both universities she previously worked at?
2. Did you know Evans’ records mirror that of the case of Kendra Parton which span nearly two decades? Kendra wrote, she was berated, torn to pieces and treated like she was "the most worthless piece of garbage in the gutter."
3. Did you know about Evans’ negative or aggressive interactions with her students and colleagues at both institutions?
4. Did you know over the years that Evans has reduced dozens of her students to tears?
5. Did you know while employed at Utah State University, she was asked to judge a 4-H competition with small children and made the 8-year old kids feel badly?
6. If you knew any of this before you hired Evans would you still have hired her?
7. If yes, then do you support people like Dr. Evans bullying young adults?
8. If no, then, wouldn’t Kendra Parton still be alive today if you had looked into Dr. Evan’s background before hiring her?
SCC didn’t answer any of our questions, but in their response implied she would not be back with the program. Previously, the school had referred to Evans as direct with her students, but the most recent response called her blunt.
Full response from SCC:
"With the search committee records no longer available (According to policy, these records are kept for three years), we can’t speculate about what background information may or may not have been obtained in 2010. As for her employment at SCC, Dr. Patricia Evans, while blunt in her delivery, had the integrity of the program and the best interest and success of students, as well as the safety of students and horses, as a main concern. Dr. Evans is on long term medical leave and we are respecting her privacy, while moving forward with an Acting Program Director for Equine Science."