By TESS SHEETS
UT’s media services director John Paul Stepro was charged with sexual battery of a person between the ages of 12 and 17 on Sunday, according to arrest records published on Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department’s website. The university has placed Stepro on administrative leave pending further information about his arrest, according to Eric Cardenas, director of public information at UT.
Stepro was released on a surety bond yesterday at about 3:00 p.m. The bond was set at $100,000.
Stepro has been with the university for about 15 years, according to Cardenas. The media services team supplies faculty and students with equipment and training for technology, including software and devices.
Although RateMyProfessor.com gives Stepro a 4.7 rating in overall quality, touting over 20 positive reviews, former media services employees voiced different sentiments. One former employee said Stepro “created a hostile working environment.” Efforts to reach Stepro via phone and email were unsuccessful.
Kelly, a senior who requested that her last name remain confidential, said that Stepro made inappropriate comments to her one day at work.
“He interrupted me; I was doing something with someone else,” Kelly said. “He said something about the size of my hands and then said something along the lines of ‘oh I bet you could do a lot of things with those.’ It wasn’t in a lighthearted sense. He tried to put it off as a joke but it wasn’t.”
Kelly then told Stepro the comment was inappropriate.
“He called me into his office,” Kelly said. “He said, ‘I really admire that you stood up for yourself because women these days are just so passive and they never stick up for what they believe in anymore.’”
According to Kelly, on another occasion, Stepro made similarly lewd remarks to her after she requested off work for a day.
“He called me into his office and said, ‘I just want to know what’s going on with you. You’re a completely different person than when I first hired you. Is it that time of the month?’” Kelly said. “I said, ‘No, there’s no change in me. I just don’t agree with the new policies here. No one knows what’s going on.’”
Not every media services employee experienced this type of interaction with Stepro, though others agree he could be difficult to work with.
“John has never made me feel uncomfortable or acted inappropriately at work,” said junior communications major Alex, a former media services employee who requested her last name remain confidential. “He’s just a lot to handle and a little bit of him went a very long way. He was more intimidating and annoying than anything else.”
Media services’ disorganization and resulting customer complaints had seemed to increase in recent semesters, according to Kelly. The Minaret reached out to media services but no one was available for comment. After the fall semester of 2015, more employees were hired to make up for a dearth of staff members in event support services.
“Not enough and too many people doing the same thing,” Kelly said. Some employees would miss shifts because the work schedule had become confusing, she said.
“We had been getting more complaints,” Kelly said. “I was talking to clients and they weren’t happy with the services we were providing. Some people wouldn’t show up to shifts because it was just so confusing and there was a power struggle between the people under him. But you could never question him. Everything went under him.”
Kelly said her decision to quit media services was in large part due to Stepro.
Another former student employee said she thought of Stepro as her “creepy boss.” Karli Snell, senior advertising and public relations major and former video editor for media services, said she often had one-on-one meetings with Stepro in his office to discuss video projects.
“I had to be in his office quite a bit,” Snell said. “And always in those session, something was always a bit off. He would always comment on what I was wearing, like my shorts– so I stopped wearing shorts. I never really took anything into account though, because I never could predict that.”
In the spring semester of her junior year, Snell was getting ready to quit media services for reasons unrelated to her experiences with Stepro.
“By the end of my last semester working there, I was always late and slacking and not having time to do videos because of school,” Snell said. “He would say ‘you’re lucky you’re attractive, you’re lucky you’re beautiful, or else I could fire you at any time.’ He said that like twice. But like I said, I never really took it into account.”
Stepro’s court date has yet to be scheduled. He is facing a life felony, according to the Hillsborough County Clerk of Circuit Court.
Stepro’s arrest comes about one year after Nathan Madsen — a UT music professor at the time — was arrested on child sex-trafficking charges during an undercover sting operation by Homeland Security agents.
This article may develop pending responses from Stepro and media services.