Friday, June 29, 2012

(Sacramento) Grand jury report blisters Twin Rivers school district

By Melody Gutierrez - The Sacramento Bee

After the Sacramento County grand jury learned earlier this year that four unregistered weapons were being housed at the Twin Rivers Unified School District Police Department, the panel decided to have a look inside the evidence room.

The four guns, which were not there during the grand jury's first inspection, appeared during the second visit, including a semiautomatic Uzi. Finding out who returned them proved frustrating, said grand jury foreman Don Prange Sr.

"We demanded to see the tapes for that period of time, because they have cameras in the hallway and evidence locker," Prange Sr. said. "It just happens that tape was missing."

The grand jury's yearlong investigation, which was released Thursday, alleged widespread corruption and myriad illegal actions in the Twin Rivers district and its police force dating back several years.

It alleges that district leaders actively destroyed the careers of individuals who reported unlawful acts, violated the rights of employees and police officers, abused their fiduciary responsibilities and misled the public with erroneous information.

The grand jury also calls on the newly elected school board to consider replacing Superintendent Frank Porter, Deputy Superintendent Ziggy Robeson, Associate Superintendent of Human Resources Patty Smart, Assistant Superintendent of Facilities Services Alan Colombo and district spokeswoman Trinette Marquis.

The names of the individuals are not used in the report, although their titles make it evident.

Porter retired earlier this month and Robeson is on paid administrative leave.

"This is vindication for all of us in the community who have been out there trying to highlight these issues and let folks know that we really want some support and to see change come to Twin Rivers," said David DeLuz, president of the Greater Sacramento Urban League.

His organization is hosting a community meeting at 10 a.m. today at 3725 Marysville Blvd. to review the report.

In a prepared statement, Twin Rivers officials declined to comment specifically on allegations raised in the report. The district said commenting could compromise ongoing police investigations.

The District Attorney's Office, Sacramento Police Department, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies are investigating allegations in the grand jury report and others that are not.

"The district encourages and welcomes these inquiries as it is important for the public to know that the Twin Rivers Unified School District has rooted out all illicit and criminal conduct," according to the statement from Tom Janis, an assistant superintendent.

The school district has 90 days to respond to the report. This is the second consecutive grand jury report on Twin Rivers Unified. The school district in the city's north area largely dismissed the first, which alleged financial mismanagement, racial tension and ongoing feuds since the district was created in 2007.

The most recent grand jury report includes allegations that the district's outside legal counsel took Police Chief Christopher Breck's computer and the district's server, despite subpoenas issued during that time ordering that emails, documents and voice mails be produced.

Breck has been on paid administrative leave since November.

Acting Chief Scott LaCosse, who has been working to address issues in the department since January, said he agrees with 98 percent of what was in the report about the Police Department.

"It's a benefit to the Police Department to have had several outside reviews on what has happened down here and a public airing of facts as found by the grand jury," LaCosse said. "We need to be transparent to the extent the law permits."

Newly elected trustee John Dexter said the grand jury report can be a blueprint for moving forward. "I will do what I can to make this right," Dexter said. "We have too many great employees who after this report will be embarrassed to say they work for Twin Rivers and that shouldn't be the case."

Other allegations in the report include:

• A detective told the grand jury he believed money is missing from the police station's evidence room and narcotics may have also been stolen.

• A teacher – who is the daughter of Porter's administrative assistant – had her car towed, the grand jury said. Porter emailed Breck's administrative assistant to refund the teacher's $200 towing fee.

That teacher had allowed an unlicensed 17-year-old student to drive her car, the report alleges. The teacher and student were investigated by the Twin Rivers Police Department and the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department.

The grand jury wanted to interview the teacher but was told she now lives and teaches in another state.

• The grand jury was especially critical of Breck. An officer testified that Breck asked him on several occasions to do personal tasks, such as making repairs to Breck's home or buying him cigars.

The officer said on many occasions he was instructed to be a driver for Breck and his wife, Twin Rivers Officer Margueritte Dias-Breck, for special events.

The grand jury report said Robeson, the deputy superintendent, approved sending additional police officers to accompany Breck and his wife to community or political events. The grand jury report said Breck "wanted it to appear that he had an entourage who supported him."

• In the report, three board members, including then-President Roger Westrup, said they were unaware of nearly all matters relating to the police force. Westrup testified that the information the grand jury told him should have been brought to the board's attention by the superintendent, the report states.

Westrup said Thursday he wants to review with the grand jury how his statements were "woven into the report and correct some minor inconsistences" in what he recalls telling the panel.

• The report alleges Colombo, the assistant superintendent of facilities services, bragged about receiving a 2 percent kickback on a $20 million contract with a solar consultant. The grand jury report said Colombo told the panel he was joking about a kickback.

The grand jury alleges Go Green was paid $60,000, but no work was done.

Twin Rivers interim Superintendent Rob Ball said the district never paid Go Green anything. Joel Huppe of Go Green also disputed that his company received any money from Twin Rivers school district or that there was a 2 percent kickback in the contract.

• At least 11 officers had take-home vehicles, which were driven to their homes on a daily basis. The report said this policy generated unnecessary vehicle mileage and inflated fuel, repair and maintenance costs.

Breck told the grand jury the department spent $65,000 per vehicle per year in repairs, the report states.

• The grand jury criticizes Marquis, the district spokeswoman, for making erroneous statements to the community and media. In one instance, parents voiced concerns in 2010 when an adult school was moved to the same campus with Martin Luther King Jr. Technology Academy, a middle school. Parents asked about the potential for a sex offender to be in the adult school population.

Marquis told The Bee and other media at the time that the district confirmed there were no sex offenders in the adult school program.

The grand jury said witnesses testified that there were sex offenders placed on the middle school campus, the report said.

"I am disappointed that they would put forward an unsubstantiated allegation without providing me with an opportunity to defend myself," Marquis said in a statement to The Bee. "I was never invited to speak to the grand jury or given the opportunity to provide factual documents I received that formed the basis of my media statements in question."

No comments: