They include a woman who got into an altercation with a district employee during her drive to work one day.
A Mira Monte High School administrator who was applying for a promotion.
And a Bakersfield High School student who got tased by a district police officer when he was tardy to class, then filed a lawsuit.
Those are examples of the people who were run through the Kern High School District’s subscription to the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System — a sensitive police information database — which came into question last year when its police chief reported rampant misuse to law enforcement.
The new information comes from a source with knowledge of logs documenting thousands of names run through the system between about 1992 and 2014 and then interviews with some of the people identified through the logs. The source with knowledge of the logs spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation by the district.
The findings begin to answer one of the biggest unanswered questions to come out of the 10-month-old CLETS controversy: Whose names did high school district officials run through the database and why?
The reasons listed in the logs vary from pre-employment background screenings to drug investigations. In other cases, no explanation is given.
The California Department of Justice has told The Californian this month that it's been illegal for public agencies with CLETS access to use the system to run pre-employment background screenings since 1985 — seven years before KHSD began keeping logs and using the system for such purposes, according to the source.
The Kern High School District has hired an outside law firm to investigate complaints it misused CLETS. While those results are pending, district officials acknowledged in a statement that some names may have been run inappropriately.
Another document shows KHSD’s police department self-reported nine CLETS misuse investigations last year. Agencies with access to CLETS are required to self-investigate and report misuse complaints each year to the California Department of Justice. The district cleared itself in six of the nine cases; the results of three cases are pending.
And the Kern County Sheriff’s Office said in an email answering questions from The Californian that in 2016, KHSD was out of compliance with policies governing the database’s use and asked the state DOJ for guidance. (See accompanying story.)
When presented with The Californian’s new findings from the logs and subsequent interviews, KHSD officials declined to say why specific people were run through the database or answer many other questions. That’s because the questions either involved personnel issues or pertained to matters “about which (Superintendent Bryon Schaefer) has no personal knowledge,” district lawyer Arnold Anchordoquy said.
Instead, acting KHSD Police Chief Ed Komin launched an internal investigation into whether the information The Californian obtained was gathered illegally by the source before being shared with the newspaper.
“The idea that members of our community who may or may not have been inappropriately run through CLETS may now have this potentially embarrassing and private information put on public display in the newspaper as a result of an unauthorized, and possibly illegal, disclosure of CLETS/RAP information to the media by a ‘confidential source’ who is working directly and anonymously with The Bakersfield Californian is concerning and disappointing,” KHSD spokeswoman Lisa Krch wrote March 3.
At the same time, however, Komin said the district would look into the complaints people quoted in this story had about having been run through the database, Krch said.
WHAT’S THIS ALL ABOUT?
CLETS is a database maintained by the California Department of Justice that captures whether individuals have criminal histories, parking citations or moving violations, own guns, or have restraining orders filed against them, along with a plethora of other personal information.
The database is accessible to law enforcement and others who are trained and authorized to run checks on individuals on a “need-to-know, right-to-know” basis, only when there’s a legitimate law enforcement purpose. It’s illegal for individuals to use it to snoop on significant others, or look up a neighbor. In other words, it’s for police purposes only.
The district also had access to RAP sheets, a separate database accessible through CLETS that shows records of arrests and priors.
The Kern High School District’s use of CLETS came into question when its chief of police, Joe Lopeteguy, suspected misuse in August 2015 and asked his former employer, the Kern County Sheriff's Office, to investigate, according to a sheriff's investigative report dated July 2016 that soon after became public.
Lopeteguy was asked by KHSD Athletics Director Stan Greene in 2015 to run a plate number, the report says. When Lopeteguy told his boss, Jennings, it was illegal for him to furnish CLETS information to somebody unauthorized to receive it, Jennings said it was something that had been done in the past “through the chief for purposes of the district,” the report states.
Seth O’Dell, a lawyer representing Lopeteguy and two other officers suing for whistleblower retaliation, has alleged in lawsuits and government claims that the district was using the system to verify addresses of student athletes to ensure they weren’t living outside of their school boundaries and stacking sports teams.
Logs show Greene requested that a district employee with authorized CLETS access perform 169 registration checks between Jan. 11, 2011, and Nov. 30, 2012, the source said.
The Sheriff's Office recommended criminal misdemeanor charges against Director of Pupil Personnel Otis Jennings and former district Police Chief Mike Collier for allegedly furnishing information obtained from CLETS to a person not authorized to receive it, according to the report. The Kern County District Attorney’s office declined to pursue criminal charges, citing a lapsed statute of limitations and lack of evidence.
The Californian’s source revealed the Kern High School District has run more than 6,000 names through the system between 1992 and 2014. Hardly a week went by that checks weren’t being run, the source said. On one day in October 2014, it ran 27 driver’s license numbers, the source said. Other days, scores of driver’s license numbers were checked.
O’Dell has said in the past that the sheer volume is suspect.
When RAP sheets are run, they are generally searched in connection with criminal investigations that lead to arrests, but when Lopeteguy took over the department, he noticed that many searches had no corresponding investigation or arrest, according to the sheriff’s report.
O’Dell declined to comment on The Californian’s findings.
The Californian cannot verify whether the CLETS checks and RAP sheets, or even a majority run were lawful, but experts and some of those involved in the incidents say they’re questionable.
“Globally, there’s a lot of privacy around those databases, and they should only be used for law enforcement purposes, whether in California or anywhere,” Kym Craven, founder of the Massachusetts-based police consulting firm Public Safety Strategies Group, said speaking to the issue generally, not this specific case. “It shouldn’t be used in a casual way.”
DISTRICT USED SYSTEM FOR EMPLOYMENT CHECKS
KHSD personnel also had access to databases for searching RAP sheets, or records of arrests and priors. Police typically include case numbers when running RAPs. But log entries of some RAP sheets run at KHSD have no police case number, while others include what appear to be fake case numbers because they don’t have enough digits, the source said.
RAP sheets show not only court convictions but when individuals are arrested, regardless of outcome. By comparison, Livescan, the system used to run pre-employment background checks in California through the DOJ, only discloses offenses resulting in convictions.
For a period of about five years, between 1992 and 1997, the Kern High School District ran RAP sheets on more than 3,000 people, many of which were under the umbrella of “pre-employment background screenings,” the source said.
The names include retired Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Williamson; Deborah Renee Parlier, a district finance employee who is married to Bakersfield City Councilman Chris Parlier; and Tyson Davis, a Kern County Sheriff’s Office commander.
Williamson, whose name was run in 1995, said he recalls signing a form allowing the district to run his RAP sheet before applying for a substitute teaching job and coaching at several schools.
Giving the district permission to run a RAP sheet was a requirement of the job, Williamson said.
“Every time I volunteered, you had to get your fingerprints done and sign the permission form for them to check into your background and that was the way it was back then. That’s how we operated the Police Department when we came on, too, so it think it’s pretty standard,” Williamson said.
Davis, who was a Kern County sheriff's detentions officer in the mid-’90s, worked as a school campus supervisor from 1989 to 1997 on his days off, he said.
“So I did work there then, but them running my name in CLETS would be a clear violation of that for employment purposes,” Davis said.
Parlier did not return requests for comment through her husband because he said there is a KHSD policy barring employees from speaking to the media.
Was it appropriate to run RAP sheets on people applying for jobs? The district would not answer The Californian’s question regarding the matter because, it said, the information could have been obtained illegally, and “responding to illegally obtained information should not be done by the KHSD.”
But in April 1997, a line was added to the logs: “No pre-employment checks from this date forward.” It’s unclear what prompted that.
CLETS Policies, Practices and Procedures manual prohibits agencies from running RAP sheets for employment purposes, “including pre-employment background investigations for sworn peace officers and/or law enforcement employees,” the manual states.
The DOJ said that practice, which bars CLETS from being used for pre-employment background screenings, has been in place since September 1985, 12 years earlier than when it was acknowledged in KHSD’s logs.
Individuals whose RAP sheets were pulled between 2012 and 2016 said on and off the record that the dates their names were run aligned with times they were applying for jobs with the district.
Bakersfield City School District board member Russ Shuppert was among them.
Shuppert was activities director at Mira Monte High School about the time his name was run on May 24, 2013. The district listed the reason as a “drug investigation,” the anonymous source said.
Shuppert has never been charged with a crime in Kern County, according to Superior Court online records. During a brief conversation, he told The Californian he was applying for administrative positions at the time. He declined to comment further when the newspaper made multiple attempts by phone, email and in person to ask follow-up questions.
The Californian surveyed three other school district police departments throughout the state that have CLETS authorization. None said they use it to perform background checks on behalf of their school districts, nor did they say they use it to verify student addresses, as it's been alleged KHSD has to ensure student athletes are living within proper boundaries.
“Inquires for personal business, curiosity or dissemination to an authorized third party are strictly prohibited. An officer may request a criminal history for arrest, criminal investigations and citizen ride-alongs. The purpose of the inquiry, the name and ID number of the person who is receiving the information and a case number is required. Criminal histories are not accessed for licensing, employment or to verify if students live within district boundaries,” said Isabella McNeill, an information services specialist at the San Diego Unified School District, whose police department is authorized to use CLETS.
Sgt. Julie Spry, a public information officer for Los Angeles School Police, one of the largest school police departments in the nation, said similarly that the department does not involve itself in student issues, including verifying addresses, and it doesn’t use its CLETS subscription to run background checks for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Deidra Powell, chief communications officer at the Santa Ana Unified School District, said the police department cannot use CLETS for non-law enforcement purposes.
When asked about the different circumstances under which people were run through CLETS, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California could not speak to the legalities of use, but described it as a “troubling trend” within the district.
“This is a troubling result of the proliferation of law enforcement in schools, a clear invasion of privacy, and a misuse of government resources. Much more must be done to hold school district officials accountable and to make sure the district stops criminalizing our youth,” said Victor Leung, staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California.
In at least one instance, a woman had her license plate number run after, according to her, she got into an altercation with a district employee.
That woman is Pamela Underhill, the owner of a painting business and the ex-wife of Kern County District Attorney Chief Investigator Scott Tunnicliffe. She lives just a few blocks from Kern High’s district offices on Sundale Avenue in the southwest.
She was driving through the neighborhood to work one morning in 2015 when, she said, a woman began tailgating her. Underhill let it go, but then it happened again with the same vehicle about two days later.
So Underhill let the tailgater pass, then followed her until she parked at the district offices.
“I told her she was driving way too fast,” said Underhill, who described herself as a “strong-willed woman.”
That employee asked Underhill to leave and said she was trespassing on private property, Underhill said. The district offices are on public property. That’s when Underhill followed her into the district office, saying she wanted to speak to the woman’s supervisor. The two argued in the lobby until Underhill left, she said.
But as she headed back to her car, someone Underhill described as a “tall, slender black man wearing a suit and a badge” ordered her to stop. After being shown a photo, she identified the man as Jennings, KHSD’s director of pupil personnel.
“Are you a police officer?” Underhill recalled asking him. “Because I know I don’t have to stop for you unless you are.”
The man identified himself as a member of KHSD’s police department, Underhill told The Californian. They spoke for a few minutes and the man said he would take care of things and talk to the employee.
Jennings is not a police officer, never obtained a POST-certification to ensure minimum Police Officer Standards and Training and never went to a police academy, KHSD confirmed. He’s a civilian administrator whose duties require him to act as commissioner of police, supervise the chief of police and oversee all matters related to law enforcement, including facilitating activities of peace officers at school sites, according to a district job description. Despite that title, he’s still not authorized to obtain CLETS information, according to the sheriff’s report.
Jennings has been on a self-initiated paid leave since Aug. 23, 2016, Krch said.
Underhill’s personalized license plate was run five times through CLETS. Then, former KHSD Police Chief Mike Collier was listed as running Underhill’s former married name — Pamela Tunnicliffe — three times, a source told The Californian. All eight checks took place around 9:30 a.m., just after Underhill’s run-in with Jennings.
Craven described such a scenario as a clear misuse of the system.
“It’s not for curiosity. It’s not for the next-door neighbor. It’s not for learning casual information. It has to be triggered by an event that has caused law enforcement to need to know information to protect themselves or the community. So if you were just sitting in a parking lot and walked away and the officer says he’d like to know that person’s name and they run that plate, it’s not a law enforcement purpose,” Craven said.
RICHARD KEITH REDING
Richard Reding, a 31-year KHSD employee, had his name run twice; once in May and again in October 2014, according to the source who has knowledge of the logs.
Reding worked as an administrator at West High School and Bakersfield Adult School for six years before heading back into a district classroom in 2008, a decision he said he made over a dispute with district superintendency.
“We’ve had some disagreements in terms of jobs and job descriptions and that kind of a thing, where it was just a personality conflict with higher administration,” Redding said. “So I resigned and went back to teaching.”
Then in 2014, he got into a vehicle collision with a Bakersfield Police Department patrol car and pleaded no contest to DUI, according to Kern County Superior Court online records. Two days after his arrest, his name was run through CLETS, the source said.
Carol Stonecipher, a KHSD dispatcher who maintained the logs, told sheriff’s investigators that “if Human Resources heard about an employee getting a DUI they would come to either Otis Jennings or to the chief and they would want to verify the information,” according to the Sheriff's Office report.
The department is enrolled in the DMV Pole Program, which informs it if an employee is arrested on suspicion of DUI or anything else related to a person's driving record. However, it takes about seven to 10 days for notification to happen.
“They did not want to wait that long,” Stonecipher was quoted as telling an investigator in the sheriff’s report.
The call sign used to access Reding’s information was “D-2,” which the sheriff's report says belonged to Jennings. D-2 stands for District-2.
“Jennings was not authorized to receive information obtained from CLETS/CJIS (Criminal Justice Information System),” the sheriff’s report said.
But Jennings told a sheriff’s investigator that he “may have a code but does not know it or where it might be,” and that he “never accessed CLETS.”
Elisa Machado, then KHSD’s agency CLETS coordinator, or ACC, had the authority to give Jennings an access code to the system, the Sheriff's Office said. Machado was Jennings’ secretary.
The ACC is responsible for communicating with DOJ and reporting misuse investigations, something the district hadn’t done until last year. Machado was the ACC until February 2016, when Lt. Jerald Wyatt — who coordinated with Lopeteguy to report misuse — took over.
“KHSDPD govern themselves in this regard. They have their own ACC and are responsible for requesting/disabling access by contacting the County ACC. The County ACC then provides, or disables access and provides them with the level of access per their request,” KCSO said.
Anchordoquy defended the district’s administrators.
“Kern High School District civilian administrators not affiliated with the KHSDPD are not trained in CLETS, nor do they have access to the CLETS system,” Anchordoquy said. “To the best of the District’s knowledge at this time, administrators have for decades relied upon the expertise of sworn law enforcement officers who are trained in and who have access to CLETS to follow all the rules and regulations associated with the CLETS system and to only furnish information that is legal and permissible to provide.”
Tyson Reed, a former Bakersfield High School student who was tased by a school police officer after being tardy to class, was also run through the system.
Reed claims the district discriminated against him based on race because he is black and falsely arrested him.
The then-18-year-old student refused to leave his seat until his teacher, Brett Bonetti, marked him as present, according to a lawsuit Reed filed against the district in September.
KHSD Police Officer Luis Pena pushed Reed’s desk away from him, grabbed his arm and tased him twice, the lawsuit states.
“I don’t deserve this,” Reed shouted while on the floor, according to the lawsuit.
Pena alleged that Reed was “physically aggressive” during the incident and resisted arrest. He faced 10 months of court proceedings in Juvenile Court based on what Reed’s lawyer, Shawna Leigh Parks, alleged in the lawsuit were “Pena’s false reports.” A delinquency judge found those allegations untrue, Parks said. The details of most juvenile criminal cases, including this kind, are not public record, so The Californian could not independently confirm that.
Fewer than three weeks later, on March 30, 2015, a district officer checked Reed’s probation status. Parks questioned whether the district was attempting to build a case against her client given the timing.
“Why were they looking?” Parks asked when questioned about the CLETS check. “It definitely seems retaliatory. Were they justifying what was going on?”