A UCSB researcher is facing felony charges of possessing child pornography after illicit images allegedly were found on his university-issued computer.
Matthew Ferris Peterson, 41, was arraigned Monday in Superior Court in Santa Barbara, and entered a not-guilty plea to the charge, according to Jennifer Karapetian, senior deputy district attorney.
Peterson, a researcher with the Vision and Image Understanding Lab at UCSB, was arrested in June at a residence in Carpinteria.
His arrest was first reported by the UCSB Daily Nexus student newspaper.
“The UC Police Department received information regarding a possible crime of child sexual abuse material on a work computer, and opened an investigation that led to the arrest of (Peterson),” Kiki Reyes, the university’s media relations manager, told Noozhawk.
Peterson was booked into the Santa Barbara County Jail, and subsequently was released on $50,000 bail.
Reyes confirmed that the alleged crime involved a university-issued computer used by Peterson.
Peterson, who did not teach any classes, has been placed on leave, Reyes said, and is not permitted on campus pending the outcome of the case.
“There is no indication at this time that the alleged behavior under investigation had any connection to the research,” she added.
The Vision and Image Understanding Lab, part of UCSB’s Psychological & Brain Sciences Department, “pursues computational modeling of behavioral, cognitive neuroscience, and physiological data to elucidate the mechanisms and neural substrates mediating perception, attention, and learning,” according to the university’s website.
Peterson has been working on a project funded by a $157,196 grant from the National Science Foundation to study “eye movements and retinotopic face encoding in children, adults, and developmental prosopagnosia.”
A link to Peterson’s biography on the lab’s website has been taken down.
“The investigation is still ongoing. We cannot discuss further details related to the case at this time so that we do not jeopardize the investigation,” Reyes said.
If found guilty and convicted, Peterson could be sentenced to a year behind bars, receive a fine, and be required to register as a sex offender.
The criminal complaint filed against him also notes that prosecutors intend to introduce evidence of “prior acts of sexual offenses committed by the defendant,” although no details were provided.