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Kern High School District launched nine internal investigations into CLETS misuse last year with Department of Justice and found it did nothing wrong in most

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Some individuals may have been inappropriately run through a sensitive police information database, the Kern High School District acknowledged in a statement to The Californian this month.

The statement is the district’s first acknowledgement that there could have been wrongdoing in the ongoing scandal involving potential misuse of the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System.

But even as KHSD makes such a statement, there’s little local law enforcement officials can do to quell misuse. 

The Kern County Sheriff’s Office, which holds the subscription to CLETS and allows KHSD’s police department to use the system, asked the California Department of Justice for guidance Sept. 1, 2016, about how it could “immediately regain compliance along with options for KCSO related to misuse by their agency,” the Sheriff's Office said.

But there’s no active reciprocity agreement with KHSD’s police department. That agreement would have allowed the Sheriff's Office to operate the database on the district police department’s behalf.

The Sheriff's Office said it audited the department six times at KHSD’s request in 2016, then provided training after the initial investigation “per their request to observe liability concerns." 

The DOJ made some other recommendations, however the Sheriff's Office would not specify what those recommendations were.

Two months before reaching out to the DOJ, sheriff’s officials recommended pressing charges against two district officials — something the Kern County District Attorney’s office declined to do, citing a lapsed statute of limitations and lack of evidence.

KHSD’s police department governs itself, and is in charge of self-reporting and investigating potential misuse within its department, even as the school reports more complaints of CLETS misuse to the DOJ in at least six years, according to a district report on misuse investigations to the DOJ obtained by The Californian.

KHSD’s police department self-reported nine internal investigations into allegations the district misused CLETS to the DOJ in 2016 — six triggered by private citizen complaints and three by the department itself, according to a district report to the DOJ. KHSD said six complaints were deemed unfounded and investigations into three are still pending.  

KHSD’s lawyer, Arnold Anchordoquy, said he could not provide additional details about the investigations because disclosing such information would violate CLETS rules, the Peace Officer’s Bill of Rights, several penal code sections, and evidence code sections 1040, 1043 and 1045.

The DOJ would not provide details of the investigations after The Californian filed a Public Records Act request, saying they are exempt from disclosure.

The district reported no misuse between 2010 and 2016, the document shows. 

Because agencies are in charge of investigating themselves, it’s rare when action is taken against them, according to Dave Maass, an investigative researcher with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization that defends civil liberties violated digitally. EFF has explored CLETS misuse across the state.

It has found that the Attorney General’s CLETS Advisory Committee, or CAC, the state agency tasked with disciplining agencies for misuse and is supposed to review self-initiated investigations, has taken no action against any agency in years, according to a report EFF published last week.

“It used to be that CADOJ and CAC investigated violations, but several years back they handed off that responsibility to the individual agencies that subscribe to CLETS,” Maass wrote.

The CAC is made up of 11 members, roughly half of whom represent special interest groups that lobby for law enforcement, which Maass said makes them “predisposed to support — not punish — their members.”

Five members of the Attorney General’s CLETS Advisory Committee wouldn’t return calls and emails seeking clarification of the law surrounding CLETS use; one referred The Californian to the DOJ's press office.

​Harold Pierce covers education and health for The Californian. He can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @RoldyPierce.

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