The Kern High School District launched an internal affairs investigation against a senior officer last year and accused him of wrongdoing after he helped uncover a decades-long practice of administrators misusing a sensitive police information database, a government claim filed against the district Friday alleges.
Lt. Jerald Wyatt’s claim, a precursor to a civil suit, is the second legal action taken against KHSD in a week related to the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System scandal, which involves accusations that administrators were for decades misusing CLETS to run license plate checks and rap sheets on students, job candidates and others.
The claim, filed by Bakersfield attorney Seth O'Dell, makes good on a promise attorney Nicholas Rowley made last week when announcing a civil suit against the district on behalf of Police Chief Joseph Lopeteguy, who reported the CLETS misuse: “More lawsuits will come.”
Wyatt’s claim alleges, among other things, that administrators and others created a hostile work environment, violated whistleblower protections and the Peace Officer’s Bill of Rights and retaliated against him by illegally recording him without his knowledge.
The claim names the KHSD board of trustees, Superintendent Bryon Schaefer, Assistant Superintendents Brenda Lewis and Mike Zulfa, Director of Pupil Personnel Otis Jennings and former Acting Police Chief Dave Edmiston as those responsible for creating a hostile workplace.
And in a new piece of information about the Lopeteguy case, the claim alleges that Schaefer and Lewis asked Lopeteguy to set up a meeting with the Sheriff's Office to halt its investigation into alleged CLETS misuse. He refused.
KHSD spokeswoman Lisa Krch responded Friday that “allegations of wrongdoing against KHSD civilian administrators are baseless" and referred further comment to Arnold Anchordoquy, a defense attorney retained by the district in the Lopeteguy lawsuit.
“There’s lots of allegations there. Somebody’s going to have to take a look at this and see how factually accurate it is,” he said. “The board will look at it and take appropriate steps in responding to the allegations of the claim.”
Anchordoquy said it would be inappropriate to say much more and try the case in the media.
Wyatt’s involvement in the CLETS scandal dates to when Lopeteguy discovered the alleged misuse in 2015. Along with Lt. Gilbert Valdez, he was assigned to investigate the misuse internally at KHSD.
“There was tension and stress involved in doing the investigation, as the supervisory members made obvious their displeasure with the existence and purpose of the investigation and with Wyatt and Valdez for conducting it as instructed by Chief Lopeteguy,” the claim states.
The investigation concluded in January 2016, finding widespread corruption of the CLETS system “which potentially stretched into the highest echelons of the KHSD,” the claim continues.
Wyatt’s bosses were civilian administrators Jennings and Lewis, something a separate lawsuit filed by Lopeteguy alleges violates state education code.
When Wyatt and Valdez reported their findings to Lewis, she ordered them to turn over all information from the investigation to her, the claim alleges.
Wyatt held a stake in the proper use of CLETS, not only because he swore to use it properly as a peace officer, but also because he became the agency CLETS coordinator in February 2016.
“That required he sign documents acknowledging that any improper misuse of the system would have to be reported to the appropriate agency or he would be held liable,” the claim states.
When Lopeteguy was placed on administrative leave in May 2016 — something O’Dell contends was retaliatory for uncovering CLETS misuse — administrators assigned Wyatt as acting chief. But during that period, they were “hostile” toward him, the claim states. They headquartered him in the administrative offices, but would not provide him with an office or a desk, something the claim alleges was done to impede Wyatt’s ability to investigate CLETS misuse.
And then in July, KHSD administrators accused Wyatt of “using his color of authority” to misuse CLETS to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, the claim alleges.
The hostility resulted in Wyatt seeking medical treatment for high blood pressure, anxiety and depression, his claim alleges.
Schaefer demoted Wyatt a month later “without good reason,” the claim states. Administrators later told Wyatt he was the subject of an internal affairs investigation by the district for CLETS misuse, however O’Dell said there were several investigations launched.
Wyatt went on medical stress leave in the fall, after it was discovered that Acting Police Chief Edmiston – who replaced Lopeteguy after he went on stress leave in August – was illegally recording his conversations with Wyatt without his knowledge.
Edmiston is now facing four misdemeanor counts of illegal eavesdropping. The recordings have been under court seal because they involve personnel issues of protected police officers, however O’Dell — who hasn’t heard the tapes himself — said the conversations involve job performance and discussions about other police officers.