Fliers spark controversy over ASPSU presidential candidate’s criminal background

Across the Portland State campus last week, fliers were anonymously posted in the Women’s Resource Center and other areas, and slid under Student Media doors.

The fliers featured the mug shot of Tony Funchess, presidential candidate for the Associated Students of Portland State University and current multicultural affairs director. He has been campaigning under the slate Step Up, Speak Out, Stand Together.

Alongside a list of criminal convictions, bold letters stated, “Tony Funchess is a convicted rapist and wants to be ASPSU president…Should this man be your president?”

Court records obtained by the Vanguard show that in 2007 Funchess pled guilty to Attempted Rape II and Sodomy III.

The Attempted Rape II charge is in relation to a 2000 incident that occurred with someone who was under the age of 14 while Funchess was 23. The Sodomy III charge is related to a 2005 incident with a different individual who was under the age of 16. Funchess was 28.

According to ORS 163.365, rape in the second degree is classified as such: “[Known as Rape II or Rape 2] (1) A person who has sexual intercourse with another person commits the crime of rape in the second degree if the other person is under 14 years of age. (2) Rape in the second degree is a Class B felony.”

OR 163.385 states that “(1) A person commits the crime of sodomy in the third degree if the person engages in deviate sexual intercourse with another person under 16 years of age or causes that person to engage in deviate sexual intercourse. (2) Sodomy in the third degree is a Class C felony.”

At the time of this printing, no one has stepped forward to claim responsibility for the fliers.

“It’s just vicious and ugly that someone would post that to advance their particular agenda,” Funchess said.

“There’s only one purpose behind this, which is to discredit and bring shame and question and malign myself and the slate,” Funchess said. “I can’t see any other object for such a tactic.”

Funchess responds

Funchess said he met the individual from the 2000 incident on 222 Chat, a telephone dating service, about 6–7 months before the January 2000 incident. The relationship eventually moved to personal phones and letters, and Funchess said he was initially misled about her age.

“I mean, she sent pictures of them clubbing and all kinds of stuff,” Funchess said.

Funchess said the two had a relationship that ended in December 2005.

“She and I, in 2005—December 19—realized that our relationship is as best friends,” Funchess said. “We have a great relationship. We’re really supportive, and we love each other, but it gets very chaotic.”

He said the two were living together when he was indicted.

“My relationship with her was not a secret,” he said. “Hell, when I went to prison we were living together.

“We were building a life, and then her mom went to the grand jury, and it blew both of our minds,” Funchess said. “When I was sitting in court and they tried to get me to take the [Rape II] charge, I fought them tooth and nail. And it came down to attempted [rape], because I’m not going to say I did something, and I’m not going to identify somebody as something they’re not.”

In terms of the second charge, Funchess said there was no indication that the individual was underage. The night in question happened at a friend’s house during spring break of 2005.

“Both [friend’s] cousins are over, and [her] dad comes over…and tells [her] sister, ‘You better go to school. Don’t miss any days of school,’” Funchess said. “[He] comes over and checks out the sister’s homework. When I go to the store to go get alcohol, she goes with me.

“[There was] no indication that she was 16,” Funchess said. “So he’s there and he’s talking to both of his children and he’s telling one to go to school. And I knew one was 16 and one was 18. So, because of the context of the space that we’re in and my best friend is like, ‘We’re hiding the alcohol from the other one.’ So the whole framework is that this one is older, that one’s the younger one. And one night, I performed oral sex on her.”

According to a court document requesting a pretrial release, the relationship with the second individual went on for 12 months.

Criminal history

Funchess was initially indicted on Jan. 31, 2006 for the 2005 incident involving the second individual. He was charged with one count of Sodomy III, one count of Rape III and two counts of Sexual Abuse III.

Funchess applied to be considered for pretrial release in late 2006 but was denied by the Pretrial Services Program due to the nature of his charges.

He was re-indicted on June 8, 2007, to include the 2000 case involving the first individual. He was additionally charged with Rape II and Sexual Abuse I.

He again applied to be considered for pretrial release and was again denied.

Funchess originally pled not guilty, but in September and October 2007 he had a settlement conference with the plaintiff, the State of Oregon. Four charges against Funchess were dropped—Sexual Abuse I, Rape III, and two counts of Sexual Abuse III. Rape II was reduced to Attempted Rape II. He pled guilty to Attempted Rape II and Sodomy III.

He was sentenced to 34 months in prison, and he was required to register as a sex offender for life. He is deemed non-predatory by the Oregon sex offender registry. The predatory/non-predatory designation system is in the process of being replaced with a three-tiered classification system.

According to PSP’s 2007 denial recommendation, Funchess has an arrest history that spans beyond his convictions.

He was either arrested or contacted by police in Washington for Assault IV and Domestic Violence in October 1997. In Oregon, he was arrested or contacted for Aggravated Assault and Child Abuse-Assault in June 2000; Possible Sex Abuse and Rape/Sodomy in May 2003, which was later reduced to Custodial Interference; Threats/Intimidation, Kidnapping, and Domestic Violence in December 2005; and Assault and Domestic Violence also in December 2005. He was not charged for any of these arrests.

In response to these arrests in an interview on April 17, Funchess said, “A lot of that is the youthfulness of parents trying to figure out how to co-parent…A lot of that is coming out of a custody battle.”

Funchess was arrested for Reckless Endangerment, two counts of Menacing, and Interfering with a Police Report on Jan. 30, 2006, the day before he was first indicted.

Funchess was also arrested for violating parole in November 2011.

When asked to further clarify some of these arrests by email on April 20, Funchess declined to comment.

“At this point in time I do not have any further comment,” he said in his email. “I am focused on my academics and campaign and will be available for comment at a later date and time.”

When asked, Funchess said he sees the individuals as victims by the law’s standards.

“They are victims based off the definition that is set forward here,” Funchess said. “They are victims based off the fact that I have violated the state law… Now, has victimization taken place here? I have to agree that yes, I was the adult. They are not. There’s a greater level of accountability that is placed. I own that. But labeling someone a victim is very challenging for me, as I’m sharing with you about not compartmentalizing folks and locking them into one identity and one framework.

“I can’t just lock them into being a victim because that denies them their own identity,” he continued. “It denies their own power to name their selves and their own experience. And it’s not my place to do that to them.”

Funchess said he did not explicitly disclose the nature of his convictions during the campaign because he felt he had talked about it at length in the past on YouTube, on Facebook and in conversations on campus.

“I believe there’s a public right to know—absolutely,” Funchess said. “Do I believe I have the obligation to go to every single person and say, ‘Hey, this is who I am, this is what I did’ over and over for 30,000 folks? Hell no. It’s unrealistic.”

Despite the fliers, Funchess believes he can still be an effective leader because the leadership position isn’t about him alone.

“It’s about a dynamic team of folks who bring their diverse perspectives,” Funchess said. “We all collaborate and work together to accomplish the multitude of changes that we have to accomplish here.”

Elections impact

Funchess’ only opposition for the presidential office is the Students For Affordable Education slate, which includes Dr. Khalid Alballaa for president and Linda Hoppes for vice president. Alballaa’s eligibility in the election is currently in question, pending a decision from the ASPSU Elections Committee.

On April 17, the ASPSU Judicial Review Board approved an attention request submitted by Funchess’ vice presidential running mate, Kaitlyn Verret, that challenged Alballaa’s eligibility to hold office in ASPSU or participate in elections.

According to the attention request, in Fall 2014 Alballaa was removed from his appointed position in the Student Fee Committee for failing to fulfill job duties. She referenced Article 10, section 18 of the ASPSU Constitution, which states, “Those removed from office by any method except impeachment shall not be eligible to hold office in ASPSU for the following two (2) Quarters.”

The J-Board approved the request, which then defers to the Elections Committee for review. This means Alballaa may be removed from the election, leaving Funchess as the sole candidate for student body president.

In light of these developments, the J-Board met on April 20 to discuss the elections process going forward. J-Board Chief Justice Nathan Claus proposed making changes to the elections schedule.

“I’ve been thinking all week about how to introduce this,” Claus said at the meeting. “So, as you all know, the election has been a very interesting election this year, with a lot of drama associated with it.

“One of the plans that have been proposed is to hit a figurative reset button on this election cycle,” Claus continued.

Claus, J-board members and Coordinator of Student Government Relations Advisor Candace Avalos discussed the possibility of reopening ASPSU’s nomination process. The votes that have already been cast would be void, and new and current eligible candidates would participate in a reopening of the nomination process. This would push back the elections to reopen on May 1 and close May 8.

Due to time restrictions, the board members did not make a decision regarding the discussion. A follow-up meeting will continue the discussion and is likely to result in a decision.

J-Board member Kate Lindstrom said she hopes the dissatisfaction with the current elections might translate into greater student involvement.

“It’s my deepest hope that the people who have been most angry about the process—I highly encourage them, please come and run and be a part of this conversation,” Lindstrom said. “Student government doesn’t get better without student involvement. If you don’t run and just choose to be angry, then you are leaving the choice to people you may or may not want actually to be involved and that is at least partially on you for not participating.”

Another J-Board member, Ukiah Hawkins, echoed Lindstrom’s desire for greater student involvement.

“[T]here’s also potential to take the amount of public awareness that’s happening in general and translate that into something that increases the democratic role in the student body,” Hawkins said.

“I am inclined to vote in favor of any motion that we would have that would reopen the nominating process,” he continued. “I just want to ensure that people get on board on that and it’s done the right way.”

Campus response

The PSU community has shown a divided response to the fliers and Funchess’ criminal history.

Many students and community members—including most of those running alongside him in the ASPSU elections—have publicly shown their support for Funchess.

Last week, Verret said, “[Funchess] doesn’t stand alone on this issue. We stand with him.”

Funchess posted on his personal Facebook page asking people to change their profile pictures to his campaign image in support, and several people have obliged. Others have come out with public statements of support.

Layla Deene changed her profile picture to the SUSOST logo and commented on the Vanguard Facebook page, saying, “I support [Funchess] 100 percent.”

Another comment on the Vanguard Facebook from PSU student Kate Stubblefield reads, “This is extremely inflammatory and it isn’t even breaking news. Tony has not even been keeping his conviction a secret.”

A Facebook group, “Step Down, Tony,” was created in response, demanding that Funchess remove himself from the presidential race.

“It’s time for PSU to take a stand against sexual assault, and that starts with Tony stepping down,” the Facebook page states.

Currently the page has 154 likes. The Step Up, Speak Out, Stand Together slate Facebook page has 105.

The group has also created a change.org petition calling for Funchess to concede the election. With a goal of 100 signatures, the petition had 101 as of 9 p.m. on Monday.

Romain Bonilla, former ASPSU SFC member, signed the petition. On the change.org page, he lists his reason for signing as, “PSU students deserve to have a campus as a safe space and a student government that can adequately represent their views.”

Conversations at an April 20 Senate meeting turned to the issue of Funchess’ history. His eligibility to hold office and run for president was called into question by some during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“I think there’s a lot of questions,” said Marcus Sis, a PSU student. Sis ran for president of ASPSU in 2014. “Already some of them have been asked. How long did the student leadership know about this? Did they know about this when they hired him? Did our ASPSU adviser know about it beforehand? Did they know about it at any point during the academic term? Because if they did, that’s absolutely unacceptable for our university, for our student leaders to be tolerating that kind of thing.

“The country is literally watching what you do tonight and so I ask that you do the right thing and [tell Funchess], this exploiter of children, that he has no business leading anything on campus, especially a conversation about how PSU needs to improve its stance and its response to rape here,” Sis said.

The meeting became heated when some attendees spoke out of turn and began yelling. Members of the public and Senate left the room and a short recess was called.

When the meeting continued, ASPSU Senator Lekzi NesSmith addressed the attendees.

“This is not about minimizing the work that Tony has done on campus,” NesSmith said. “Instead, this is about the simple fact that a criminal past of this nature necessarily takes away from one’s ability to lead and represent the student voice on issues of campus safety and sexual assault. If Tony is truly interested in bettering our community and furthering ASPSU’s goals, then he can support our efforts. But, due to the present situation—nationwide coverage, negative coverage of our institution—it would be extremely detrimental to both PSU and ASPSU as institutions if Tony was the representative voice of our entire community.”

Another Senator, Elyse Cogburn, also spoke.

“I have only one thing to say and one thing only,” Cogburn said. “You can’t let someone’s past dictate their future. Tony Funchess has done so much for this campus, so much as multicultural affairs director.”

ASPSU vice president Rayleen McMillan said the ASPSU leadership was not prepared to comment on the situation at this time.

“We do very genuinely appreciate the engagement of all the students here today,” McMillan said. “From the bottom of our hearts.”

Living with convictions

Funchess has referenced his community and PSU leadership roles as evidence of his ability to lead effectively. He discussed the Ban the Box campaign—a movement that advocates for greater opportunities for people with criminal histories.

“When folks come out of [prison], when the system has said that they have served the time, we really need to move to a place to accepting that people have served their time,” Funchess said. “We have put in place probation, post-prison supervision, so that we can observe them as they transition back into becoming full citizens. I did that. I have completed that. At some point in time, there has to be some real freedom.

“We cannot find freedom if we’re constantly labeling folks and [being] divided,” Funchess said. “I don’t think we need to constantly be harping on folks who have been through the system and who have paid their dues to society…It’s a set up to exclude folks that have something very great and potential to offer.”

PSU Communications Director Scott Gallagher said the university does not run background checks on students.

“In the state of Oregon, having a criminal history does not prevent you from pursuing a degree in higher education,” Gallagher said. “And that’s a degree in any Oregon public institution.”

Currently, elections are scheduled to close on April 23. This may change based on rulings by upcoming J-board deliberations.

Read a letter from the editors here.

Update, 4/21 9:50 AM: The writers originally described the individuals as women because they are both currently adults. The story has been edited to change “woman” to “individual.”