School District Routinely Abused Access To Law Enforcement Database; Suspended Whistleblower Who Exposed It
from the like-any-other-criminal-enterprise,-the-government-hates-snitches dept
Give enough people access to sensitive information and abuse is inevitable. We've covered multiple incidents of law enforcement database misuse by police officers. Some have used their access to track former spouses. Others use it to harvest info on potential partners, supplementing the minimal personal data supplied by internet dating sites.
But it's not just law enforcement officers abusing this access. It's also abused by public employees who have been granted access to these databases. Jose Gaspar of Bakersfield.com details the apparent routine misuse of database access by school administrators.
Kern High School District administrators and other employees misused a criminal database to investigate students, and while sheriff’s officials recommended criminal charges against two, no one was prosecuted, according to documents obtained this past week.
The chief of police for the school district (Joe Lopeteguy) suspected unauthorized use of access of the CLETS (California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System) database so he asked the Kern County Sheriff's Office to investigate. The office confirmed Chief Lopeteguy's suspicions.
The report says KHSD police accessed CLETS to get information about a special education student for unknown reasons; an employee who’d filed a workers’ compensation claim with the district; and about 30 student athletes.
What tipped Chief Lopeteguy off was a request sent to him by the athletics director asking him to run a student's plates. Lopeteguy told the requester he wouldn't because such a search would be illegal. Apparently, this was the first time the athletics director had been told "no."
Shortly after, the chief reportedly said, he received an email from his boss, KHSD Director of Pupil Personnel Otis Jennings, wondering what was going on.
The message from Jennings read, “This is something we've done in the past through the chief for purposes of the district.”
The former school police chief (Mike Collier) admitted to approving these (apparently illegal) search requests in the past. Both the athletic director and personnel director had submitted multiple database search requests, often without informing Collier of their plans. The district's police dispatcher -- who ultimately controlled database access -- confirmed this.
[The dispatcher] told investigators that [athletics director] Greene would come in with a list of licenses to run, but she would only run requests under Collier's order and with him providing his CLETS identification number. According to the report, Stonecipher also said Jennings would make CLETS requests and she would direct him to Collier.
Collier apparently approved the 246 database searches performed using his credentials during the 2014-15 school year, even though a majority of them were for information school staff wasn't allowed to obtain via the law enforcement database.
Investigators tried to speak to Collier about his search history but he lawyered up and refused to cooperate. The other administrators named in the investigation also refused to speak to the Sheriff's Office.
Not that their refusal to cooperate ultimately matters. The Sheriff's Office recommended bringing charges against Collier and Jennings for their access violations, but the District Attorney decided not to prosecute. The only person being punished for this abuse is the man who reported it: Chief Lopeteguy.
During the investigation, on May 13, KHSD placed Lopeteguy on administrative leave. Lopeteguy told investigators the district was accusing him of misusing CLETS and of incompetence.
Lopeteguy was reinstated two months later but claims -- via a $2.3 million lawsuit against the district -- that he's still being harassed by district staff, who have gone so far as to attempt to have the Sheriff's Office investigate him for abuse of the CLETS database.
Here we see the government acting in two of its standard roles: the routine abuser of access to information citizens are required to provide it with, and as the punisher of whistleblowers who expose this abuse. Neither of these actions serve the public in any way, shape or form, making a mockery of the term "public servant."