As we all eagerly await the results of three (or are there more?) separate investigations into what the H-E-double toothpicks has been going on with the Kern High School District and its police department, I thought it might be fun to go over what the district has, so far, refused to tell us.
Some of my former bosses didn’t think readers cared about the backstory to how reporters get information.
In fact, one of my current editors has a great idea for a semi-regular feature she’s been calling “What your government isn’t telling you today” that I think readers would find hugely interesting.
Let's call this a pilot test of that theory.
Since we first learned about alleged misuse of a law enforcement database by former KHSD Chief Michael Collier and Director of Pupil Personnel Otis Jennings, The Californian, of course, has been trying to learn more about what happened, how and who was involved.
One of the biggest questions, and something we still get calls and emails about, is who the district allegedly illegally ran through the database, known as California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, or CLETS.
Loads of parents have contacted us worried they and their children were run through CLETS. Especially if their children were involved in sports, which seems to have been one of the main improper uses of the database.
We wondered the same thing, so we asked.
On Aug. 17 I sent a Public Records Act request for logs of CLETS checks and RAP sheets run using CLETS over a set number of years.
I didn’t ask for the CLETS information itself, just logs of those checks.
Of course, I wanted the names of those who were checked.
But even just the number of checks run per year would be interesting.
I also wanted copies of emails dating back to Aug. 1, 2015, regarding license plate and/or CLETS checks to or from the following folks: Jennings, Athletic Director Stan Greene, former police Chief Joe Lopeteguy, KHSD police dispatcher Carol Stonecipher, Assistant Superintendent Brenda Lewis and Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Mike Zulfa
No dice on all counts.
The district’s lawyer got back to me on Aug. 29 saying the district wouldn’t give up the records because they: A) may be the subject of an investigation of alleged abuse of CLETS; B) may contain information derived from CLETS; and C) could have information related to an administrative investigation of law enforcement personnel.
I also asked for copies of any letters or memos sent by Zulfa to the Sheriff’s Office on Aug. 12 or later regarding CLETS.
And I asked for emails from KHSD Superintendent Bryon Schaefer from Aug. 1 on regarding Schaefer’s appointment of an acting chief after Lopeteguy went out on leave and sued the district.
At first (on Sept. 15), I was told I would get some of those emails.
Fifteen days later, Mr. Lawyer Pants changed his mind and said no to the Schaefer emails as well, citing most of the same laws cited in his first denial.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
I figured that would be the response.
Just for grins, here are my arguments.
My requests came well after the Kern County District Attorney's office declined to prosecute Jennings and Collier despite a Sheriff’s Office recommendation it do so.
There were no ongoing criminal investigations (the Tulare County DA’s review of a separate allegation of CLETS misuse came later).
And I didn’t ask for CLETS information.
I asked for information about how CLETS was used and who was involved in that use.
None of what I asked for involved personnel records. If the emails, etc., did have confidential personnel information (which is limited mostly to medical records), that could have been blacked out.
As for denying my request because emails/memos may relate to an administrative investigation of law enforcement personnel, that exemption has to do with specific misconduct alleged against an officer.
I asked for emails and memos between administrators and KHSD officers discussing the use of CLETS, not allegations of misconduct.
If some of those documents did discuss misconduct, then those specific documents could have been withheld.
By the way, all public agencies have a duty to assist the public with getting information. That includes helping figure out what can be disclosed, even if that's only a fraction of what was requested.
Instead, I got a blanket “pound sand,” which is a complete dereliction of the district's duty to the public.
I realize I’m not a lawyer and since suing isn’t an option, I’m stuck with KHSD’s answers.
I just thought the public should know that’s where things have stalled.
Meanwhile, our education reporter, Harold Pierce, has been trying to get information about the consultant hired by KHSD to evaluate the district’s police department.
Stuff like, what the expectations of the consultant were and how the consultant was chosen.
He made that request on Aug. 5 and was told 24 days later, on Aug. 29, that the district would get back to him “soon.”
Another 30 days went by before he was notified on Sept. 30 that the information was available.
If I didn’t know better I’d say KHSD doesn’t really want the public to know what's going on.
Perhaps I'm jaded.