Someone at the Kern High School District had better lose their job.
And it better not be KHSD Police Chief Joe Lopeteguy.
If you somehow missed KBAK reporter Jose Gaspar’s incredible story, here’s a recap.
Lopeteguy blew the whistle on what appears to be a long-standing practice of KHSD administrators illegally using law enforcement databases to check athlete’s addresses, look up employee DUIs, run a criminal check on at least one special ed student and who knows what else.
This isn’t a wink and a nod, “everyone does it,” kind of thing.
It’s a civil rights violation for anyone without proper authorization and an appropriate reason to poke around in the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS) and Criminal Justice Information Service (CJIS).
If that’s what was happening — and a Kern County Sheriff’s Office investigation lays it pretty bare — the repercussions could reach far beyond KHSD.
That’s because the district basically piggybacks on the sheriff’s CLETS system.
If misuse isn’t reported, the state Department of Justice (DOJ) could yank the service from both agencies.
It’s clearly spelled out in the CLETS subscriber agreement:
“The CA DOJ reserves the right to immediately suspend furnishing criminal offender record information to the Subscriber when either security or dissemination requirements are violated.”
Imagine the impact to this community if that were to happen.
So, KHSD Superintendent Bryon Schaefer and its Board of Trustees better get their acts together and quick.
Because the community deserves an explanation of what the HECK was going on over there and how they’re going to clean it up.
I mean, seriously. Boss Hogg ran a cleaner operation.
Here’s what we know so far.
Last summer, Lopeteguy was made acting chief and quickly learned about possible CLETS misuse after receiving an email from dispatcher Carol Stonecipher on Aug. 4, 2015, asking Lopeteguy to run some license plate numbers for KHSD Athletics Director Stan Greene, according to Sheriff’s Office reports.
Lopeteguy asked why and Greene allegedly said it was to verify student athlete addresses to see if they were eligible to attend certain schools.
Since snooping on kids in order to stack sports teams for particular schools isn’t listed as an authorized use of CLETS, Lopeteguy said no.
Greene apparently whined to his boss, KHSD Director of Pupil Personnel Otis Jennings, who tried to get Lopeteguy to relent, reportedly saying this was never a problem for former KHSD Police Chief Mike Collier.
Lopeteguy asked Collier, who still works for KHSD as an officer, if he had truly used CLETS that way and Collier said yes, according to sheriff’s interviews with Lopeteguy and KHSD officers Gilbert Valdez and Jerald Wyatt, who conducted their own investigation for KHSD.
Valdez’s and Wyatt’s investigation also found Collier may have used CLETS to run a criminal background check on a special ed student and a KHSD employee who had a worker’s comp case against the district.
Not to mention numerous DUI checks on employees for the Human Resources Department, according to statements by Stonecipher to sheriff’s investigators.
“If Human Resources heard about an employee getting a D.U.I. they would come to either Otis (Jennings) or the chief and they would want to verify the information,” Stonecipher is quoted as telling investigators.
Which is especially troubling as KHSD is part of the so-called DMV Pull Program, which sends a notification if an employee who drives for the district gets a DUI or other driving offense within seven to 10 days of the offense.
“They didn’t want to wait that long,” investigators reported Stonecipher as saying.
Instead, the district felt it was better to violate employees’ civil rights based on gossip?
And by the way, according to the sheriff’s reports, the district’s CLETS checks, which are automatically kept digitally, were also kept in handwritten logs by Stonecipher that not only showed who requested the check, but also whom the information went to.
That included Greene and other administrators who did not have legal authorization to even know that information, according to the sheriff’s investigation.
The whole thing is astounding.
Back last August, Lopeteguy brought his initial concerns to his boss, Assistant Superintendent Brenda Lewis.
She sent out an email saying basically, “Hey, guys, knock it off,” to Greene and Jennings about asking for CLETS information.
Lopeteguy assigned Valdez and Wyatt to investigate exactly how big a problem this was.
After he was named chief and had to sign a new CLETS agreement promising to report misuse, Lopeteguy went to the Sheriff’s Office, which started its investigation in April, reports show.
Then, remarkably, KHSD suspended Lopeteguy in mid-May claiming he was the one who misused CLETS, despite the fact the sheriff’s investigation clearly states he’s the whistleblower.
If I didn’t know better, I would think the district was trying to hang Lopeteguy out to dry in order to sweep this all under the rug.
Lopeteguy has since been reinstated, which I’m sure is a super fun working environment for him.
But that’s not where this story should end.
The community deserves answers.
Who was run through CLETS? What for? What’s the district going to do about it?
(Personally, I think Greene, Jennings, Stonecipher, Lewis and anyone else found to have misused CLETS or CLETS information should all be suspended pending investigation.)
As for CLETS, I don’t know how much KHSD requires it for legitimate policing activities, surely not the more than 200 times it was accessed in the 2014-15 school year, according to the sheriff’s reports.
But at the very least, the DOJ should take this service away from KHSD until it can prove it’s grown up enough not to use it as a toy.