The Tulare County District Attorney’s office will not file charges against Kern High School District Police Chief Joseph Lopeteguy in connection with allegations he misused a sensitive police database, a prosecutor said Friday.
The decision is validation for Lopeteguy, who uncovered years of district officials misusing the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System after he took charge of the department in October 2015.
He was placed on administrative leave in May, after he reported the misuse to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.
Later, Mike Zulfa, KHSD’s assistant superintendent of human resources, reported that it was actually Lopeteguy who was misusing CLETS, according to a government claim Lopeteguy’s lawyer filed in August against the district seeking $2.2 million in damages alleging whistleblower retaliation.
“We have notified the Kern High School District that we will not be prosecuting anyone out of the investigation that was sent to us by the Kern County district attorney regarding the misuse of CLETS information,” Tulare County Chief Deputy District Attorney Dan Underwood told The Californian Friday.
Prosecutors at the Tulare County District Attorney’s office didn’t uncover any wrongdoing, but if they had, the one-year statute of limitations for a misdemeanor charge would have already passed, said Underwood.
His department took over the investigation about two months ago when the Kern County DA's office said it wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Zulfa’s brother, David, is a former Kern County deputy district attorney.
Meanwhile, Lopeteguy once worked for the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.
Lopeteguy's attorney, Seth O'Dell, said he wasn't anticipating prosecutors bringing forth charges.
"I’m pleased to hear of their decision. And it’s good because Joe Lopeteguy had believed in and worked for the integrity of our law enforcement and criminal justice system for his entire career. He unfortunately had to go through this very, very stressful ordeal because of action taken in order to maintain that integrity," O'Dell said.
KHSD officials did not return a call seeking comment.
The DA’s announcement Friday closes one chapter of the CLETS misuse scandal that KHSD officials have been grappling with for months.
It started after Athletics Director Stan Greene asked Lopeteguy in August 2015 to run a computer check on a license plate and to provide him the information, according to a Kern County Sheriff's Office investigative report.
A group of KHSD employees, known as “The Rambo Patrol,” went to athletes' homes gathering license plate numbers to verify they were living in their high school boundaries, a school district police dispatcher told investigators, according to the report.
Lopeteguy’s administrative supervisor, Director of Pupil Personnel Otis Jennings, told him the background checks were routine and “something we’ve done in the past through the chief for the purposes of the district.” Former KHSD Police Chief Mike Collier confirmed that to Lopeteguy, according to the report.
Lopeteguy refused to run the checks before alerting KHSD Assistant Superintendent Brenda Lewis, who was acting as police commissioner at the time.
Sheriff’s investigators found that among the 246 checks made during the 2014-2015 school year, at least one was for an employee who had filed a worker’s compensation claim against the district, and another was for a special education student.
Sheriff’s officials recommended pressing criminal misdemeanor charges against Collier and his boss, Jennings, for furnishing information obtained from CLETS to people not authorized to receive it. The Kern County District Attorney’s office declined, citing a lack of evidence and a lapsed statute of limitations.
Since the scandal went public in August, the district hired a Sacramento-based law firm to investigate the matter with no price ceiling, contracted with a Chicago-based police consulting group to overhaul the department, and gave Superintendent Bryon Schaefer civilian oversight of the police department.
District trustees have said that the department could face a major overhaul, including dismantling it altogether.
“I’d say everything is on the table,” KHSD Board President Mike Williams said in August. “The police department has got to have some strong leadership in there and some strong systems and we’ve taken some steps to look at that, too.”
Despite that, the district has struggled to install long-term leadership over the department. It's cycled through three chiefs in five months, with one, Dave Edmiston, being placed on administrative leave in October after a search warrant was served at the district.
The Bakersfield Police Department has recommended that the DA's office prosecute him on criminal eavesdropping charges.