AOB is Not Qualified to Conduct an Investigation

About AOB

Here’s what the CRT said in their April 21, 2020 update about the experience of AOB:

“An Olive Branch has extensive experience with responding to allegations of misconduct on the part of spiritual leaders. As a neutral third-party, we are able to relate to reporters of harm, witnesses, and those refuting claims of misconduct. Our goal is a fair and balanced investigation.

The three consultants from An Olive Branch who are working on this project… together, they have advised and counseled [not investigated] 25 organizations experiencing allegations of ethical misconduct by a spiritual leader.

AOB has performed five projects for Buddhist organizations. Of the five projects, [ONLY] two were independent investigations, including interviewing students who reported harm and receiving testimony from supporters of their teacher and rebuttal witnesses.”

On the home page of the AOB website, it says the following about their background:

“An Olive Branch was formed in 2011 as a project of the Zen Center of Pittsburgh. Growing out of the need for greater understanding and reduction of ethical misconduct on the part of religious leaders, the work of the organization is centered on providing services to organizations in conflict.

We have expertise, knowledge of best practices, and standards of excellence for our services. Our consultants have complementary skills related to training, facilitation, governance and intervention.  The services they offer on their website are:

  • Responding to ethical misconduct
  • Training Services
  • Mediation Services”

Notice there is no mention of conducting investigations.

Questions about Education and Training

Guru Terath Singh, who as a NM State Prosecutor for 25 years, conducted thousands of investigations and was a judge for 20 years for the State Public Education Department, shared this email communication he had with Barbara Gray from AOB on May 8, 2020:

“One of the questions that you have not yet answered is the education and training of each investigator to do investigations. For some idea of what I was looking for, Google “Investigations Best Practices.” There are many examples of the education and training involved in becoming an investigator. See for example the Horton and Jones Day sites. While they refer to workplace investigations, the same universal principles apply.

It is my opinion that your approach and methodology here is more consistent with your “Listening Post” experience. And if your work with the Shambhala community is any indication of that work, it is very, very good. I believe that you are highly qualified and perform a very valuable service when you do that work.

But this is not a “Listening Post” assignment. It is supposed to be an independent, thorough and competent investigation.

Consider what is at stake. If AOB creates and the SSSC Board publishes a Report that states that YB did any of these monstrous and evil acts, his family will suffer extreme emotional distress, the more than 7,000 worldwide certified teachers and trainers of “Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan” and the hundreds of SDI ministers will all lose the respect of their students and parishioners and his worldwide reputation will be destroyed.

If Yogi Bhajan did any of these things, then these things will be the expected consequences of that behavior. But if he did not do these things, then this untold suffering would be truly reprehensible and irreversible. All of this depends on the completion of a competent, thorough and independent investigation.

It is my opinion that, for the reasons I have stated, this investigation by AOB is not competent, thorough or independent.

I regret that we are where we are. It could have been different if investigative Best Practices had been used from the outset.”

This can be fixed

AOB has only done 2 investigations.  That cannot be changed. Because of the importance of the anticipated consequences of this process, there may need to be new investigators hired who have the education, training and experience to do this work.

These allegations concern events which may have happened 20-50 years ago.  Spending a few more months to do this right and in a fair way should not be asking too much.

The CRT Interfered with the Olive Branch “Independent” Investigation

In a fair investigation, investigators review not only what accusers tell them verbally, but also what accusers have written (i.e. in their emails or on social media).

In an April 2, 2020 email from Katheryn Wiedman from An Olive Branch, she said:

“The SSSC and the Collaborative Response Team have stated that An Olive Branch is completing a totally independent investigation, free from their direction or control. They committed in writing that they would not attempt to influence or direct the investigation or the report.”

Contrary to this best practice for a fair investigation, the CRT directed the investigators not to look on social media. 

In an email dated 5/7/2020 from Barbara Gray, one of the AOB investigators, she provided the following response to questions raised by Guru Terath Singh:

“Our mandate from the CRT exempts us from searching for social media conversations. First of all, we do not have subpoena power to access such messages. Secondly, it is not customary for privately commissioned investigations of sexual misconduct of religious leaders to search social media especially because it is impossible to ask probing questions in response to such posts. Although we have seen some social media provided to us by others, we are relying on interviews in which we can ask such questions and some historical documents as the basis for our report.”

In Guru Terath Singh’s February 28, 2020 online statement, he wrote about the critical importance of reviewing accuser’s writings:

“In the typical “he said-she said” sex cases where both people could be believed, investigations would look at other things and interview other people regarding what the parties did, said and wrote in the context of the sex claim to try to determine who was credible.”

Here is Guru Terath Singh’s May 8, 2020 response to Ms. Gray:

“You wrote that you do not have subpoena power, and you do not. But you have significant leverage. If in trying to get to the bottom of an allegation (let’s say Premka’s with the history of the “back story” of the 1986 lawsuit), you could and probably should ask her to provide those of her emails over the past 2 years that in any way refer to YB or her claims. If she did, you would know if there is a back story to what is going on now. If she refused, after conferring with your attorneys, you could let her know that if she does not produce the emails, your Report will state that she made a claim, refused to cooperate with the investigation, and for that reason her claim was not pursued.

And why would you ever accept a “mandate from the CRT (that) exempts you from searching for social media conversations?” Either you are conducting an independent investigation, or you are not. Of course you should be able to ask “probing questions” about something one of the accusers wrote on social media, especially if it is inconsistent with what she told you in an interview. As you know, some the very most important things that investigators use to determine the credibility of people making accusations are their other consistent or inconsistent writings. And there is no such thing as “it is not customary for privately commissioned investigations of sexual misconduct of religious leaders to search social media…” Customary? How many have there been since the advent of social media – 2, 3?”

In addition to this, in at least one interview, Ms. Gray told the interviewee that the investigation team had not seen the ‘first person’ written list of statements by the accusers, which has been circulating on social media, through both a Next Gen Facebook group and as a Google Doc on Pamela Dyson’s Facebook group.  This list was sent to the CRT on February 28, 2020. Ms. Gray also said that social media conversations are hearsay and that they were only getting the stories from the accusers from verbal conversations with them directly.

As part of the “best practice” of a fair investigation, comparing both the written and verbal communications by an accuser is very valuable when determining the credibility of anyone giving information.  And that very important information is being kept from the investigators by the CRT.

Because there is no representative of the Siri Singh Sahib, the only way for our Sangat members who believe they may be in a position to refute “supposed” allegations, is to review information shared in a public forum, which the investigators themselves do not have and cannot access, and these Sangat members who may be in a position to refute information about the allegations, do not know what has actually been brought to the investigators.  So both sides are at a disadvantage.

This can be fixed

The Olive Branch should be told that they can request and review from anyone making an allegation and any witness their writings and responses received on the subject, including their social media contact messages, emails, letters, etc. in assessing their credibility.

Misrepresentation of “Best Practices”

The CRT Claim of “Best Practices”

When justifying how this investigation has been conducted, the CRT states in their FAQ that they are following “Best Practices”. Unfortunately, they are conflating best practices for controlling damage to an organization facing reputational harm with best practices for conducting an investigation.  From the way this investigation has actually been conducted, the CRT is clearly following best practices for controlling damage to an organization, and they are NOT following best practices for investigating specific allegations against an individual.

What follows from this confusion is the CRT is going right to repairing damage to our organizations before they have done a fair investigation of the allegations.

Example of a Proper Investigation

When looking online for an example of a proper investigation, we found an example of a process involving AOB that was properly done. In that investigation, the organization, Shambhala, stated clearly that you cannot have a fair investigation without having someone representing the accused.

Shambhala hired AOB to perform a “Listening Post” report, but first they hired a law firm (Wickwire Holm) to perform the actual investigation.

Here is a link to the AOB Listening Post Report

Here is a link to the Investigative Report performed by the law firm

In the cover letter, which was added to the Investigative Report, the Shambhala Board said this to their Sangat:

“One of the most important principles we expressed to Ms. Bath (investigator) was that all Claimants’ and Witnesses’ identities would be kept confidential. However, for an individual’s report to become a claim, the individual had to be willing to identify themselves to Wickwire Holm and to have Wickwire Holm identify them to the respondent. Otherwise, there would be no way for Wickwire Holm to investigate and to interview the respondent and any witnesses to the claim.”

In the Shambhala Investigative Report that was done by a law firm that was very experienced in doing investigations, when describing the process that was used, they stated in part :

“Similarly, the investigator meets with the (accused) about the allegation. Prior to this interview, the investigator provides the (accused) with sufficient information and detail to allow the (accused) to know the names and extent of  the Claim against them. The interview is (the accused’s) opportunity to provide a full response to the allegation.”

This process is commonly referred to as investigative Best Practices.

This can be fixed

If a representative of the SSS was included in the investigation process, with the information needed to determine whether the allegations are true, investigative Best Practices would actually be used.

Anonymous Allegations

How can anyone respond to allegations when you don’t know what the allegations are?

Because there is no one representing the Siri Singh Sahib, there is no one who is told who the accusers are and what they are accusing him of.  In the best practices used for a fair investigation, much can be done to keep allegations from the public eye and avoid shaming and bullying the people making accusations.  What is required (and what happens in all fair investigations) is that once the investigators begin their work, they find out who the representative of the accused is (even if they are deceased) and once they receive the allegations from the accusers, they tell the representative of the accused who is making allegations and what the allegations are.

If the accused is no longer alive, their representative is told by the investigators what the allegations are and who is making them.  The representative of the accused then can understand what they are being accused of and tell the investigators to speak with “so and so” who may have knowledge of the relationship of the accuser to the accused, what the condition of the accused was at the time, where they were at the time, the schedule of whether the accuser was employed, had access to the accused, etc.  In this way, both the credibility of the claims and the credibility of the accuser’s story can be validated.  The individual representing the accused should have the interests of the accused in mind; typically the representative would be a family member, or an attorney familiar with the facts at the time.

During the April 2020 Khalsa Council meetings, Chrys Martin, the attorney for the SSSC was asked how any of us could address any accusations, say from a former staff member, if we did not know who was making the accusation and what the accusation was?  She replied that we all know who his staff were over the years and that we should just contact the investigators with ANY stories about ANY of the staff.  (REALLY???)  That’s the answer?  Contact the investigators and give character references (good or bad)—give them the dirt on everyone, since we don’t know who specifically to share information about??!!

Chrys even stated at the meeting that she does not know the complete list of accusations that AOB is investigating. And if she does not even know, how is anyone supposed to know? Are there accusations that have never been anywhere on the internet being investigated that no one will respond to because they don’t know they exist? And is what is on the internet consistent with what was told to AOB?

This can be fixed

This investigation should include a representative of SSS, who would be informed of the information needed to determine whether the allegations are true.

No Representation of the Accused

For an investigation to be fair, both sides – the accuser and the accused (even if the accused is deceased) need to be represented.  In fact, one of the first things an investigator does when they are hired is to ask who is representing the accused.

In a communication to AOB on April 3, 2020, Guru Terath Singh asked the following question:

“If he was still alive, would you present him with the specific allegations including the names of his accusers and the what, when, and where the alleged offenses occurred? If not, why not? Since he has been dead for 15 years, who are you sending that information to so that he, his legacy, his family and staff can actively defend themselves?”

Barbara Gray (AOB Investigator) responded on May 7, 2020:

“The first question is moot. As to the second, again, it is not customary for someone to stand in place of the deceased, in fact, how could they? Additionally, the investigation has been open to anyone who wants to come forward to provide specific information to refute the allegations including his family and staff. His family, however, is not being investigated.”

Guru Terath Singh responded on May 8, 2020:

“The basic problem now is that the protocols that have been established for this investigation are contrary to universally accepted investigative Best Practices. In short, investigations always want to hear “the other side.” Since YB is deceased, I would have expected that when you were contacted to do this investigation, one of the first things that you would have asked would have been who is YB’s representative? His family? As the Shambhala community wrote in its Report: “for a Report to become a Claim, the individual had to be willing to identify themselves to (the investigator) and have the (investigator) identify them to the (accused). Otherwise, there would be no way for (the investigator) to investigate the (accused) and any witnesses to the claim.The Shambhala investigative Report that was done by a law firm, when describing the process that was used, stated in part : “Similarly, the investigator meets with the (accused) about the allegation. Prior to this interview, the investigator provides the (accused) with sufficient information and detail to allow the (accused) to know the names and extent of  the Claim against them. The interview is (the accused’s) opportunity to provide a full response to the allegation.” This process is commonly referred to as investigative Best Practices.

So here we are. You and the CRT have repeatedly said that you want anyone with relevant information either in support of the women making accusations or in defense of YB to contact you. The women making the accusations know who they are and what they say happened. They can provide you with contact information of anyone who has helpful corroborating information that is available to them. But since YB does not have a designated representative to whom you would disclose the names of the accusers and the specifics of the allegations, no one knows for sure any of these details. They can only speculate about the allegations that have been made to you based on whatever is out there on social media and others that have never been stated on social media.
So while your invitation for information looks good on its face, it is simply not real. If, as an example, one or more of the women tells you that she had sex with YB in his dome at night when she was on night duty, it would certainly be important for you to know if she was EVER on night duty. But that information is not available to you because no one knows who she is and when and where things supposedly happened. Was YB even in the same state or country at the time? Examples could go on and on. That’s why a representative with detailed information about each allegation is an essential part of every independent investigation. And it may be that you would learn that essential witnesses and documents are no longer available because of the great span of time that has transpired since these things supposedly happened which could affect the integrity of any conclusions at the end of the investigation. And that would not be anyone’s fault. It would just be part of the extraordinary task of trying to investigate something that happened so long ago, and especially without the ability to interview the accused.”

This can be fixed

This investigation should include a representative of SSS, who would be informed of the information needed to determine whether the allegations are true.