February 01, 2019 06:52 AM
One month after police arrested a University of Minnesota professor and accused him of beating a woman inside their northeast Minneapolis apartment, two more women say he also physically abused them.
Aaron Doering, an internationally recognized explorer and a magnet for grant money at the university, was charged in December with domestic assault by strangulation.
Prosecutors say he dragged and choked a woman, leaving her with bruises and fearing for her life. 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS is not identifying the woman in that case.
In interviews only with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, Doering's ex-wife and a former fiancée said the details in the criminal complaint sound similar to what they described as their own abusive experiences with the high-profile professor.
"I feel like I have a responsibility to say something now," said Amy Matthews, whose divorce from Doering was finalized last year.
Doering, 47, calls the domestic assault charge "false." His newly hired attorney, Christa Groshek also called the allegations made by the other women "not true."
"Just because he's macho and handsome doesn't mean he couldn't have been a victim in these relationships," Groshek said. "The last thing he ever says he would do is assault a woman."
Doering has no previous criminal charges against him.
However, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS obtained court records, police reports and text messages that detail other allegations of abuse made against Doering while his reputation continued to grow as a star at the university.
Away from the spotlight
Nina Orezzoli said she thought Doering was the man of her dreams. Just months after their first date, Orezzoli said Doering surprised her with a commitment ceremony in Bali in 2017.
"(I thought) that I was the luckiest girl in the universe," Orezzoli said.
But later the same year, Orezzoli told St. Paul police that Doering had physically abused her on two separate occasions. In a police report, she described an incident in April 2017 when she told officers she "believed she was going to die."
"He came home one day and he was just over-the-top drunk, yelling, slurring," Orezzoli said. "He grabs me by the ankles and he drags me across the house and takes me into the room where he beats me… He was on top of me. He had his hands around my neck."
Orezzoli said she did not initially share those details with officers who responded that night because she panicked and wanted to protect Doering.
"When police walked up, he threw his arm around me and I pretended that he was my boyfriend here to take care of me because an intruder had maybe come in," Orezzoli said.
Orezzoli said she regretted that decision months later.
After joining the professor at an educational conference in Russia that fall, Orezzoli said they made a stop in Amsterdam on their way back to Minnesota.
There, she said Doering "snapped" one night and beat her in their hotel room, off and on, for hours.
"I ended up with bruises – really pretty bad bruises on my thighs from where he then like threw himself on top of me. And yeah, he started to choke me," Orezzoli said. "Like, all I could think of was I just have to get out. I have to get out of here. At this point, he's going to kill me."
Orezzoli photographed her bruises and shared the same details with police after flying back to Minneapolis and taking herself to the University of Minnesota-Fairview Hospital.
Orezzoli said Doering "grabbed her by the hair" and "put his hands on her neck," according to a St. Paul police report, but there was no arrest because the alleged attack happened overseas.
Orezzoli shared text messages with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that she received from Doering while she was still in the emergency room. One of them said: "I'm sorry that I hurt you."
Orezzoli said her volatile relationship with Doering ended months later, but the two had more disputes in civil court after that, accusing each other of harassment and assault.
Speaking out for change
Amy Matthews said Doering started abusing her not long after the two married in 2010.
"We ended up on the floor with him on top of me and his hand over my mouth as I was screaming for help," Matthews said in an interview.
Matthews said arguments with Doering turned into physical abuse more than once.
She said the worst abuse came in a hotel room in Miami in 2013.
"He leaned over me and he just threw his head down as hard as he possibly could onto the top of my head, so he head-butted me," Matthews said.
She said Doering's arrest prompted her to speak out about her own experiences with her ex-husband.
"When I saw the report and the arrest, I thought, 'This is exactly how it's going to go down,'" Matthews said.
Orezzoli and Matthews said they've become friends after their experiences with Doering and now advocate for survivors of domestic abuse.
"We have to talk about it," Orezzoli said. "It's the only way we can change things."
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS made repeated requests for an interview to Doering and his attorney. When asked for comment about the other abuse allegations before a court hearing earlier this month, Doering only said, "I will later."
During Doering's initial court appearance in December, his attorney Judith Samson told a judge that "all of his problems stem from alcohol use."
The terms of his bail require him to get treatment for chemical dependency and to use an alcohol monitor.
Less than 24 hours before a scheduled plea hearing, Groshek says Doering hired her and she asked the court for a postponement.
"The matter was set for a plea hearing and that's not the direction he's going to take this case," Groshek said. "He wants to have his day in court."
After Doering's arrest, a spokesperson for the university said it would be "reviewing the matter," but added there was no change in the professor's employment status.
Now, the university will only say Doering – a tenured professor who is paid a salary of about $114,000 – is "on leave." A spokesperson would not disclose whether Doering is still being paid while on leave.
The university's code of conduct policy requires faculty and staff to "be personally accountable for individual actions" and to "avoid all forms of harassment . . . threats or violence."
The university would not say whether it was aware of any previous allegations of abuse, citing privacy protections outlined under the Minnesota Data Practices Act.
However, a spokesperson said, "There have been three complaints filed with the university against Aaron Doering. All complaints are closed."
The university has not responded to KSTP's request to interview U of M president Eric Kaler.
Check back with KSTP.com for updates on the case.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has compiled a list of resources for those who have experienced, or are experiencing, domestic abuse:
services line: 612-874-7063 x232
Updated: February 01, 2019 06:52 AM
Created: January 31, 2019 07:11 AM
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