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Michael C. Kellar, shown in a file photo, is defending the Kern High School District against a former student's accusations in a civil trial.

Felix Adamo / The Californian

Lawyers representing the Kern High School District in a civil suit responded Thursday to sworn testimony this week that called into question the autonomy and effectiveness of the KHSD Police Department.

KHSD Police Officer Keith Powers testified Wednesday in Kern County Superior Court that the dean of students at Bakersfield High School – where Powers worked – could “suggest” whether he pursue criminal investigations.

Michael Kellar, the lead defense attorney for the district in the Carter v. KHSD civil suit playing out this week, said he could only speculate how much influence that suggestion would carry, but that Powers’ statement shouldn't be taken formally.

“Powers would not be the ultimate (decision maker) because he doesn't set policy,” Kellar said. He added that Powers did conduct a days-long investigation into the alleged assault of Mitch Carter, who in 2010 dressed in a chicken costume to mock a rival team's mascot at a school pep rally and was then violently dog-piled by classmates.

After Powers concluded his investigation of the incident, he forwarded it to the Kern County District Attorney's office for review, defense attorney Chris Hagan said. Hagan added that he’s unsure whether that file was reviewed, or what the outcome could have been.

Carter’s mother, Laurie, testified on the first day of the trial that she talked with Powers after her son was mobbed and asked “if this was criminal.” She said that he told her it would “be very hard to prove.” 

Also questioned was administrators' use of official KHSD Police Department witness statements to conduct administrative investigations. When Powers testified and was presented three witness statements taken by administrators, he said it was the first time he had seen them, despite the forms bearing KHSD PD letterhead. 

Hagan clarified Thursday that all of the individuals who administrators questioned and took statements from were included in Powers' investigation. That report was not immediately available to The Californian.

When questioned about the inner workings of the Kern High School Police Department, the chain of command, and whether police officers must answer to administrators' suggestions, KHSD officials referred inquiries to Kellar and Hagan.

Kellar and Hagan declined to comment in depth on the matter, citing ongoing litigation.

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