Credit: Courtesy

A researcher in UC Santa Barbara’s Psychology & Brain Sciences department was charged in July with one felony count of “possession or control of child pornography” by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office. The individual arrested was Matthew Peterson, 42, whose attorney, Sanford Horowitz, said Peterson denied all allegations and charges.

The story came to light in early September when reporters with the UCSB newspaper, the Daily Nexus, followed up on a sheriff’s blotter report in the Carpinteria Coastal View concerning a raid in June in connection with “child sexual abuse material” on a UC computer. The felony complaint states that between January 1, 2020, and June 29, 2022, child pornography was found in Peterson’s possession or control, and that it was an offense that required registering as a sex offender. According to Horowitz, Peterson’s computer at the university was shared by several people. He emphasized that Peterson had no priors: “He has no prior criminal record, no prior arrests, no convictions, no misdemeanors, nothing whatsoever.”

Horowitz described Peterson’s research as having to do with “visual perception and attention studies.” According to a posting at the lab Peterson worked in, he and three colleagues won a four-year National Science Foundation grant in 2020 to study how people between the ages of 5 and 55 viewed faces and how the brain optimally encodes recognizing faces.

According to Kiki Reyes, a spokesperson for UCSB, no connection seemed to exist between the research and the allegations. Peterson was on leave and was not allowed on campus pending the outcome of the investigation, she wrote in an email.

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