A third Kern High School District police officer has filed a government claim against the district, alleging that after he helped uncover misuse of a sensitive police information database, administrators created a hostile work environment in retaliation against him.
Gilbert Valdez, a sergeant with the district police department currently on medical leave, was the first to discover school district administrators were ordering the alleged misuse of the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS) within the district, according to the government claim filed late Friday.
Valdez’s claim, a precursor to a civil suit, comes one week after his colleague, Lt. Jerald Wyatt, filed a similar claim alleging whistleblower retaliation, and two weeks after Chief Joseph Lopeteguy filed a civil suit against the district. His lawyers say damages could be worth more than $100 million.
Arnold Anchordoquy, the district’s defense attorney, said he received the claim Friday, but could not comment because he has not had enough time to review it.
“It’s the first part of the process of eventually bringing a lawsuit against the high school district, so they’ll take a look at it and take appropriate action,” Anchordoquy said.
When Lopeteguy became chief in 2015, he asked Valdez to sort through the “a backlog of uncompleted work” in the department’s records management system. Eventually, Valdez came across two reports that were incomplete and assigned to Mike Collier, the previous police chief, who had left to become a line officer within the department that year. Both reports included criminal arrest records, one for a juvenile and the other for an employee, the claim states.
So Valdez emailed Collier to clear up the reports.
“Collier responded with an email which indicated that Collier thought the raps (arrest records) had been pulled at the request of the District Office Human Resources Department,” the claim states. “Based on Collier’s email response, Valdez realized he had uncovered illegal activity which impacted people’s civil rights.”
After that, Valdez claims his civilian bosses created a hostile work environment, and that there was “an overwhelming amount of tension and stress” placed on him. School district administrators “made palpable their displeasure with the existence and purpose of the investigation that Lt. Wyatt and Sgt. Valdez were conducting as instructed by Chief Lopeteguy,” the claim states.
That led to extreme stress, trouble sleeping and issues with high blood pressure, the claim states.
The claim names the KHSD board of trustees, Superintendent Bryon Schaefer, assistant superintendents Brenda Lewis and Mike Zulfa, former acting Police Chief David Edmiston and Director of Pupil Personnel Otis Jennings as those responsible for creating the alleged hostile work environment.