School district police must investigate, not cover up

When the Beaumont Independent School District formed its own police department, administrators cited the need to provide security for its many facilities. Accepting their stated good intentions does not diminish the duty to investigate allegations of wrongdoing – rather than cover up incidents the districts might find embarrassing or for which they might be held financially liable.

One such incident was the 2010 traffic stop by a Jefferson County sheriff’s deputy who pulled over BISD transportation supervisor Clifton Guillory in the early morning hours for driving his district-owned pickup so erratically the deputy told his dispatcher, “He’s drunker than Cooter Brown; ran off the road three or four times while I was behind him.”

Recall that a BISD police officer came to the scene and gave Guillory a ride home. No breathalyzer test was performed and no charges were filed on the supervisor who was allowed to quietly retire. It was fortunate no one was injured or killed – including Guillory – but school district police should not be permitted to shield employees from the legal consequences of their actions.

A report this week of a school-related crime brought the Guillory incident to mind. A parent of a female student at Austin Middle School described how their daughter’s teacher put on a movie in her class, turned down the lights and promptly fell asleep. In the classroom while the movie played, the parent said two male students sexually assaulted their daughter and another girl, both 11 years old. Both girls reported the incident to school officials who brought in BISD police, who in conjunction with the Austin principal, promptly drew a curtain of secrecy over the investigation citing the rights of the alleged perpetrators and laws about confidentiality in cases involving juveniles.

At a minimum, such incidents should be reported to Beaumont Police and the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office for two reasons. First, both agencies have trained investigators with vast experience handling such cases. Second, there is frankly good reason based on past performance to doubt the competence and impartiality of school district police to see that justice is done and not to place the best interests of the district over the victim of a crime. By bringing in the police and DA, the district would be forced to comply with the letter of the law. Despite juvenile shield laws, surely the young victims and their parents have a right to know the status of the young men accused of sexually assaulting her.

BISD must move quickly to demand total professionalism and accountability from the principal and the district police chief, and not allow either to hide behind district lawyers to thwart justice in the name of limited liability. Timothy Chargois will almost certainly inherit this problem when he takes control of the district as its newly selected BISD superintendent. If the allegations are upheld, the sleeping teacher and the male students in question must answer for their actions, or lack of same, and we call on the superintendent to take swift action. Two 11-year-old girls deserve at least that much.