"This has been all over the internet for 3 years. Are you people morons?" Don McLean said in an open letter to UCLA

By Jordan Runtagh
May 07, 2019 05:15 PM
Credit: George Walker IV/The Tennessean via USA TODAY NETWORK

“American Pie” singer Don McLean announced on Monday that he had been tapped to receive a Lifetime Achievement — and hours later the honor was rescinded.

A student group at the UCLA were set to honor McLean with the George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement on May 17 at a ceremony in Los Angeles. The award, bestowed for “many contributions to the music industry,” has previously been given to luminaries including Brian Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles and Alanis Morissette.

However, according to the Portland Press Herald, the honor was revoked after presenters learned that McLean, 73, had pled guilty to domestic violence charges. The disturbance occurred in 2016 during an incident with his then-wife, Patrisha Shnier. The couple is now divorced.

“The Student Alumni Association at UCLA has rescinded its decision to present Don McLean with the 2019 George and Ira Gershwin Award. The decision to rescind the award was made by SAA’s Spring Sing Executive Committee upon learning that Mr. McLean had previously been convicted of domestic violence charges,” a representative of a UCLA undergraduate student group told PEOPLE in a statement. “SAA rejects any behavior — including violence and the threat of violence in all its forms — that does not uphold the True Bruin Values. We extend our support to survivors of domestic violence.”

McLean publicly responded to their decision with a message to UCLA shared to his social media platforms.

“Dear UCLA, you awarded me your George and Ira Gershwin life time achievement award and then took it back because you found out about my squabble with my ex wife,” he began the note. “This has been all over the internet for 3 years. Are you people morons? This is settled law. Maybe I need to give you some bribe money to grease the college wheels. Don’t ever come near me again unless you offer me an apology for the damage you have done me.”

He signed off by denying any wrongdoing in connection with the incident involving his ex-wife. “I am guilty of nothing to do with assault and you had better make that clear. We live in a dark age of accusation and not law.”

In January 2016, McLean was arrested at his home in Maine for domestic violence against Shnier. In a statement soon after the incident, Shnier claimed that the singer “terrorized” her for hours the night of his arrest. The statement added, “For the first 10 years or so, his rage was unfathomably deep and very scary.”

That June McLean pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of domestic violence assault, domestic violence criminal threatening, criminal mischief, and criminal restraint as part of a “deferred disposition” — meaning the charges would be dismissed if he complied with the court’s orders over the next year. The charges were dismissed in July 2017.

In a statement to PEOPLE, McLean made it clear that he was seeking reparations from the institution.

“I demand an apology from UCLA for the shabby and disrespectful treatment I received from them over the GIG Award. They had two weeks when I was a ‘candidate’ to vet me out and they didn’t do a simple Google search. This story has been around for over three years. At what point has a person paid his debt to society over what was nothing more than a shouting match? There was no violence of any kind and certainly no assault. I am not going to allow this to go unchallenged.”

Jeremy Westby, a representative for McLean, called UCLA’s actions “publicly disrespectful and grossly humiliating” in a statement to PEOPLE — originally obtained by the Press Herald. “I am incredibly surprised and disappointed that an institution such as UCLA, having had adequate time to vet all potential award recipients, would so easily and negligently overlook something as public as what has happened to Mr. McLean and his family three years ago.”

Westby also included a letter from McLean’s lawyer, Eric B. Morse, outlining the singer’s criminal history. The letter, dated Feb. 19, states that in July 2017, McLean was convicted “on his plea to three (3) minor criminal counts” and that McLean “was not convicted of assault or of using any force at all.”

Morse continued, “Don McLean entered his pleas not because he was in fact guilty of anything, but to provide closure for his family and to keep the whole process as private as possible.”