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‘Criminal Minds’: Producers, Studio Kept ‘Tyrant’ Senior Staffer in Place Amid Abuse Allegations (EXCLUSIVE)

When “Criminal Minds” returns to CBS Wednesday night, it will do so with Greg St. Johns again aboard as director of photography. St. Johns has been a constant on the show, one of broadcast’s longest running current dramas, rising from A-camera operator when the ABC Studios series premiered in 2006 to his current position as DP, which he was promoted to in 2007.

He has remained in that role ever since, despite a human resources probe this year into allegations of abusive behavior and an open investigation by the state of California into a claim that St. Johns sexually harassed and retaliated against a former crew member. In interviews with Variety, 19 former or current “Criminal Minds” staffers described how St. Johns has fostered a toxic environment on set, groping male staffers, threatening them physically, and firing anyone who complained. Several crew members said that they reported St. Johns’ behavior to the show’s senior management, but saw no steps taken to curb or address the alleged abuse.

St. Johns did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. Spokespersons for ABC and CBS declined to comment.

In January, roughly 100 “Criminal Minds” crew members received an anonymous email — a copy of which was obtained by Variety — claiming that “the producers of the show” had been contacted a month earlier by staffers complaining of St. Johns’ alleged abusive behavior. The January email described “the inappropriate touching of genitalia, rear ends, verbal abuse, retaliatory firings of entire electrical department employees, camera department employees and the numerous outstanding directors who made it clear that they would never return to the show because of how they were treated by Greg St. Johns.” The senders requested that “the producers interview everyone on the crew, in an anonymous and safe setting, to protect you from being singled out and retaliated against if you decided to share your personal story of how you were mistreated by Greg St. Johns.”

In February, ABC Studios’ human resources department conducted an investigation into St. Johns’ on-set behavior. The findings of that investigation are not known. St. Johns, however, remains in his job, and continues to oversee multiple departments.

In April, Tony Matulic, a former digital imaging technician on the show, filed a complaint against ABC Studios and Entertainment Partners (the payroll company through which ABC contracts “Criminal Minds” crew, and which declined to comment) with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which opened an investigation. Matulic, in an interview with Variety, alleged that he was fired from “Criminal Minds” in retaliation for speaking up to St. Johns after the DP grabbed him on the rear end.

“I called him out and I was showing that I was uncomfortable with what he was doing,” said Matulic when asked why he was let go from the show.

In his interview with Variety, Matulic said that St. Johns grabbed his rear end “once every couple of weeks” over his eight seasons on the show. He added that St. Johns also frequently grabbed his inner thigh and flicked his nipples, and that the DP once grabbed his genitals. He said that he frequently observed St. Johns touch other male crew members on the rear end, thigh, and genitals.

“The weird thing was, if Greg was in a good mood, he was doing that sort of thing and you knew it was going to be an easier day,” Matulic said. He characterized St. Johns as verbally abusive and a frequent employer of humiliation as a management tool, someone whose state of mind was difficult to anticipate and could frequently turn dark.

During season 12, Matulic finally confronted St. Johns, telling the DP to stop grabbing him. St. Johns’ attitude toward Matulic soon soured. At the end of the season, Matulic said, St. Johns told him that the digital imaging technician position — standard on television crews — was being eliminated and Matulic would not be asked back for the fall.

California DFEH claims are not made public until after the investigation period has ended. But in documents related to Matulic’s complaint and acquired by Variety, Matulic — identifying St. Johns as the perpetrator — claimed that he was “sexually harassed and terminated in retaliation for opposing practices I believe to be unlawful.” As of September, according to the most recent document, Matulic’s claim was still being investigated by DFEH.

Matulic said that during his time on “Criminal Minds” he never reported St. Johns’ behavior to producers or ABC Studios. “When you get on a big show like that, you’re happy to be there,” Matulic told Variety. “You don’t want to rock the boat. You kind of go along with it.” But the January email — which was first forwarded to him by a former colleague, and was later sent to him from the anonymous address that had initially emailed it to the crew — prompted him to take action. “When that letter came out, I started realizing what was going on, thinking about it more,” Matulic told Variety. “But it’s definitely affected me in some weird way. I’ve never gone through this before.”

Although ABC declined to confirm whether it has been contacted by California DFEH regarding its investigation into Matulic’s complaint, it is standard practice for the DFEH to contact employers named in complaints at the start of its investigations.

Several current and former crew members interviewed by Variety expressed frustration that St. Johns has continued in a management position, a role that gives him not only oversight of the camera department, but also influence over electrical and video staffs, stand-ins, directors, and other crew areas. Several crew members also characterized the permissive attitude toward St. Johns’ behavior as indicative of a culture in which below-the-line employees — who make far less than cast members and above-the-line crew — are vulnerable to retaliatory action. They pointed to several instances in which crew members who complained about St. Johns’ behavior — either to St. Johns himself or to senior staff — were not asked to return for subsequent seasons, and suggested that those situations influenced the decisions of others who chose not to speak out.

“He’s a tyrant,” Donnell Turner, a former stand-in on the show, told Variety. “By literal definition, he is a tyrant, and I feel sorry for anyone that works under him.”

Turner told Variety that he saw St. Johns grab male crew members’ genitals on multiple occasions, although St. Johns never touched him in such a manner. Turner, who is now a cast member on ABC’s “General Hospital,” worked for nine seasons as a stand-in on “Criminal Minds,” departing the show in 2014 to pursue his acting career.

In interviews with Variety, four crew members, including Matulic, described having their genitals and rear ends groped by St. Johns. Four others said that St. Johns touched them inappropriately on the rear end, but never on the genitals. All but one of the current and former crew members interviewed by Variety said that they were either touched inappropriately by St. Johns or witnessed the DP inappropriately touching others. The one crew member who said that he never saw St. Johns touch another crew member inappropriately added that he had on several occasions witnessed St. Johns verbally abuse staff, particularly members of the camera department, in ways that went beyond industry norms.

“I was abused by St. Johns verbally and physically,” one former crew member said. “The guy’s an ass grabber. He’s a nut grabber. If you dare to question his authority on any particular subject he’ll verbally abuse you right there in front of people.”

Another former crew member interviewed by Variety claimed that his pants were pulled down by St. Johns near the craft services table on set in front of multiple colleagues during the show’s 11th season. The crew member, who was wearing gym shorts, said St. Johns, his direct supervisor at the time, approached him from behind and pulled his shorts down, exposing his rear end and genitals to nearby crew. “I picked my shorts back up and I turned around and I said, ‘You f–king a–hole,’ and he started laughing,” he said.

The crew member said that he reported the incident several weeks later to an executive producer, who said that they would speak to St. Johns. The crew member was terminated at the end of the season, told by the same executive producer, “You don’t get along with Gregory, and you don’t have any respect for him, so we’re going to make some changes.” When he reminded the exec producer about the shorts incident, the exec producer — whom he declined to name — said they did not recall ever being told about it.

Matulic and another crew member told Variety that they witnessed the incident. Matulic said that he approached Glenn Kershaw — a co-executive producer on the show at that time who has since been promoted to executive producer — about the incident, and that Kershaw claimed to have already spoken to St. Johns about it.

The same crew member told Variety that in February he was contacted by Disney-ABC Television human resources and again recounted having his pants pulled down. He received a call several weeks later from the same human resources representative, who assured him that the company was taking “appropriate action” regarding St. Johns, but offered no details.

Kershaw told Variety that neither Matulic nor any other crew members spoke to him about the incident in which St. Johns allegedly pulled down a crew member’s pants. He added that he learned about the allegation at some point, but could not recall when or how. “But we were all aware of it,” he said.

Kershaw said the complaints against St. Johns had gone through HR several times and been dismissed and that the letter that prompted the February human-resources investigation “came out of the blue, and we were all taken aback by it,” he said, adding that HR “looked at it thoroughly, and it was done.”

The exec producer also told Variety that he never saw St. Johns touch any crew member on the rear end or genitals, and that he never received any complaint about St. Johns doing so. He compared the behavior to “good-game sort of stuff,” adding “I’m not going to start indicting behavior of the crew, but having spent my life in this business, there’s always pranksters and people doing what I guess you’d refer to as locker-room humor. But there was never anything overt in front of me.”

Regarding St. Johns’ alleged behavior, he said, “Nobody ever came to me saying [anything] other than they felt that Greg was, as DPs are, hard on them about something like being on time or paying attention or not talking during rehearsals,” he said.

As for staffing decisions, Kershaw acknowledged that crew members were “frustrated,” but that he felt they needed to “step up” and that he had “protected” them for a long time. “Finally I just said, ‘OK, you’re clearly not getting along, and he’s the DP of this crew. He can make the choices he wants,” he said. Kershaw added that he was not aware of Matulic’s DFEH complaint or the investigation it spawned.

Executive producer Erica Messer, the series’ showrunner, declined to comment for this story.

Another former crew member who worked on “Criminal Minds” for 13 seasons told Variety that his genitals were intentionally touched by St. Johns “no fewer than four times.” He described the DP “using the back of his hands to rub your balls, almost like a dominant thing.” He said that during the show’s second or third season he reported St. Johns’ groping to a senior staffer, who told him that it would be looked into.

He also described being physically threatened by St. Johns during a season-five conversation about camera equipment. “[St. Johns] said to me, ‘I’ll pull your f–king hat down over your face and curb stomp you,” the crew member said. Again, he reported the incident to a senior staffer, whom he also informed about multiple occasions when St. Johns allegedly touched his rear end and genitals inappropriately. He said that the senior crew member promised to take the concern to human resources and executive producers. But the crew member added that he never had a direct conversation with human resources until being called by a representative in February.

He then informed the human-resources representative about St. Johns’ alleged threats and groping. The following month, he was told that he would not be asked back for the upcoming season. “I believe that I was terminated because I spoke up,” the crew member said.

Another former crew member said that he told a senior staff on multiple occasions that St. Johns was fostering a hostile work environment. He said that St. Johns flicked his nipples and touched his rear end on multiple occasions. An additional former crew member who spoke with Variety complained that St. Johns frequently grabbed his rear end and flicked his nipples, and that he felt like he was let go “because of conflict with Greg.”

A current crew member told Variety, “He slapped me on my ass cheeks numerous times. My inner thigh, that was another one of his go-to spots to smack me.” He said that he was contacted by an HR representative in February and reported being inappropriately touched and verbally abused by St. Johns. Another current crew member claimed that St. Johns grabbed his rear end “two or three times over the years,” and that he communicated that allegation to a human resources official in February. “It’s pretty obvious that some higher-up person on our show is protecting Greg St. Johns,” the crew member said.

Crew members on “Criminal Minds” participate in training sessions once a year in which ABC Studios personnel discuss with them issues of workplace behavior, including harassment and assault. According to multiple people who have attended these meetings, crew members are encouraged to report incidents of abusive behavior to the unit production manager, executive producers, or ABC Studios human resources.

Once an unqualified hit for CBS, “Criminal Minds” has, in recent years, become a bubble show. At the end of the 2017-18 season season, it was the last of CBS’ current series to net a renewal. CBS Television Studios co-produces the show with ABC, but given that the latter is the lead studio, CBS’ interest in keeping the series on the air is limited. It is a steady ratings performer, but suffers from the natural cost inflation that comes with being on air for 13 seasons, and its value for syndication and SVOD windows is unlikely to grow. Several current crew members told Variety they expect this season, which is a shorter-than-normal 13 episodes, to be the show’s last.

In multiple conversations, former and current crew members described St. Johns as exercising outsized influence for a DP on the set. “For whatever reason Greg St. Johns has way more authority than any director of photography I’ve ever seen on a television show,” said one former crew member. “It’s like Greg’s swinging his ding dong around. He wants you to know that he’s there and he’s in charge. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Several crew members speculated that St. Johns has kept his job because producers have come to rely too much on him and on the institutional knowledge that he has built up over nearly a decade and a half on the show.

“I think the people that empower and enable him are culpable,” a former crew member told Variety. “They keep cleaning up his mess.”

That dynamic — in which a middle manager facing multiple allegations of abuse could continue to be empowered by higher-ups — could well flourish in an environment where, as Matulic described it, “No one wants to stick their neck out.” Below-the-line crew members are, as he points out, effectively contractors.

Asked whether below-the-liners are especially vulnerable to workplace abuse, or lack power on television sets to oppose such abuse, Matulic said, “Yeah, I think so,” adding, “You don’t feel like you’re part of the business. It just feels like we’re contracted workers. We’re just there for the job.”

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