The only sworn officer tasked with investigating an alleged beating at a 2010 pep rally at Bakersfield High School never saw witness reports taken by administrators until Wednesday, the officer testified under questioning at a civil trial regarding the incident.
Officer Keith Powers told the plaintiff’s attorney in Kern County Superior Court that it’s not unusual for Kern High School District administrators to “suggest” whether campus cops pursue certain investigations, even possible criminal wrongdoing.
In this case, Mitch Carter was a high school student at BHS when he was told to don a chicken costume at the rally to mock the opposing football team’s mascot. He was dog piled by classmates, including football players, and sustained allegedly serious injuries.
An investigation was conducted the day of the incident.
But Powers said it was administrators who took witness statements.
And they kept those statements, not sharing them with Powers, the lone officer in charge of looking into what happened.
That’s partly because Carter himself didn’t want an investigation, Powers testified. And partly because Jeff Scott, BHS dean of students, told him he was handling the investigation administratively.
“Are you telling us the Dean of Students has more authority than that badge put on your chest and the oath you took to protect and serve?” Carter’s attorney, Joseph Low, asked Powers Wednesday. That’s when Powers said that Scott could “suggest” whether he should investigate some cases.
KHSD officials could not be reached for comment late Wednesday afternoon.
Low seemed to question the autonomy and effectiveness of the KHSD Police Department, which employs 22 sworn officers to patrol its 18 campuses.
Responding to Low, Powers also said he couldn’t investigate possible criminal charges because there was no criminal intent. But at least one of three witnesses who filled out KHSD police reports the day of the incident said Carter was “maliciously tackled to the ground.”
Powers testified late Wednesday that if somebody had “maliciously tackled” Carter to the ground, it could be considered criminal intent and be grounds for a criminal investigation.
Except Powers never saw those reports.
When presented with multiple witness statements from the day of the brawl, Powers told attorneys it was his first time seeing them.
Despite that, Powers said he felt administrators, who interviewed and took statements from three witnesses but did not share them with the on-site police officer, cooperated with him.
Powers also testified that it’s not unusual for district administrators to keep witness statements to themselves. Those statements, which are labeled “Kern High School District Police Department Statement/Information Report[s],” are sometimes handled exclusively by administrators.
Those criminal investigation forms can be used for almost any type of incident, and not just police matters, Powers said.
When Low asked if that could range from a complaint about a soda machine or a slippery floor that needs to be fixed, Powers said “it’s possible.”
Low told The Californian during a trial recess that he couldn’t definitively state whether there’s a conflict given the administration’s ability to “suggest” whether district police pursue investigations.
“Does his suggestion have any influence over him … or should it have any influence over him? Absolutely not,” Low said, adding that police working with a school dean's office is something he's never seen before. “Police, as you suspect, are completely autonomous from government. That's why we have a separate branch and they're in charge of enforcing the law and no teacher or administrator can tell them whether to conduct a criminal investigation, or even start one.”