Sunday, July 22, 2012

School investigation in Claremont USD a waste of taxpayer money?

It seems that a school investigator up in Claremont, Edward Saucerman, is almost as controversial as San Diego's ubiquitous school investigator Robert Price. Well, not quite. Mr. Saucerman's investigation cost $20,000. That hardly compares to the $1.5 million cost of Bob Price's MiraCosta College investigation that exposed $305 in water bills that hadn't been properly remimbursed.

Do Saucerman and Price approach their jobs with a pre-set agenda? I suspect that schools don't spend $1.5 million unless they are determined to find something bad to pin on someone. In this day of school budget cuts, they don't even spend $20,000 unless they're hoping to find something.

Usually investigators work closely with the law firms that hire them, and the law firms work closely with school administrators. I don't think the school administrators wanted an impartial investigation. My guess is that they wanted someone to find as much dirt as he good. It appears the investigator came up empty.

Change of fate for D'Emilio brings questions about investigation
Kathryn Dunn
Claremont Courier
May 31, 2012

After months of investigation and community uproar, Frank D’Emilio has been reinstated as a teacher for the fall. As many residents grapple with what proved to be an emotional narrative, lingering questions about the investigation remain unanswered. Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Kevin Ward said that CUSD enlisted Workforce Investigations on the recommendation of the district’s legal counsel to investigate allegations Mr. D’Emilio had failed to report suspected child abuse. This is the first time CUSD has utilized the services of Workforce Investigations or its lead investigator, Edward Saucerman.

The use of a private investigator, according to Mr. Ward, was recommended because the district’s legal counsel felt the best practice was to hire an outside, impartial party to look into the matter. Brian Bock of Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost, who has worked with Mr. Saucerman for 10 years, made the recommendation.

“When an organization anticipates that a matter might become emotionally charged, conducting an internal investigation can unintentionally create a situation where people are accused of dredging up bias and blame,” Mr. Bock said.

CUSD paid $125 per hour for Mr. Saucerman’s services with the total cost for the investigation, including meetings, interviews, analysis, drafting and transcription, coming in at just under $20,000.

“From the onset, the district’s goal with this investigation was expressly to gather essential facts so the [district] could make an informed decision,” Mr. Bock said. “That is simply what Mr. Saucerman did in this matter.”

Mr. Bock asserts Mr. Saucerman was selected because he worked with other school districts in similar investigations for nearly a decade.

“Given his reputation for reliably providing a thorough, thoughtful and honest work product, it was determined that he would be the right person to handle this matter for the district,” Mr. Bock said.

But lack of information about Mr. Saucerman’s experience, his relationship with the law firm that recommended him, and conflicting reports on what was said and how some interviews were conducted, has given pause to some community members as to whether the investigation was truly impartial.

It’s clear Mr. Bock and Mr. Saucerman had a business and personal friendship based on photographs of Mr. Saucerman, Mr. Bock and law partners Peter Fagen and Howard Friedman—attorneys from Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost—at an Angels baseball game that were posted to Facebook on April 6, during the time of the investigation.

A Thursday morning call to Interim CUSD Superintendent Gloria Johnston as to whether she considered this off-the-job association appropriate had not been answered as of that afternoon.

As part of the investigation, Mr. Saucerman interviewed and collected written documentation from Sumner School staff, with Claremont Teachers’ Association President Joe Tonan sitting in on at least one interview.

Mr. Tonan contends the interview included leading and hypothetical questions, and the teacher was told that she could be fired depending upon the answers given.

“The teacher was in a tough bind,” Mr. Tonan said.

Mr. Saucerman denies the claim.

“I was very shocked when I was reading [in the newspaper] that I had threatened someone, a teacher or a party. I didn’t threaten anyone,” Mr. Saucerman said. “That’s a fabrication. I treat everyone with respect.”

Lita Abella, a current board member of the California Association of Licensed Investigators—a professional association of private investigators—has known Mr. Saucerman for many years. She also owns her own investigation firm and spent 20 years with the Los Angeles Police Department.

“If you’re a good investigator, you don’t need threaten anybody. That’s not what a professional does in any industry,” Ms. Abella said.

Mr. Saucerman’s LinkedIn page states he completed the LAPD police academy in 1989 and, beginning in 1997, acted as a field-training officer with the Pasadena Unified School District for 8 years. Although not noted on his LinkedIn page, Mr. Saucerman also worked as a school police officer with Fontana Unified School District beginning in 1994 and ending with his resignation in May 1998, according to Riverside Press-Enterprise article. Dates of employment with LAPD and the Pasadena Unified School District Police could not be verified.

“What I can speak to is, first of all, I’ve been doing this for 23 years. I’m a retired police officer of 16 years,” Mr. Saucerman said. “I retired from the Pasadena Unified School District police department. I’ve taught police officers and I’ve trained officers on interview techniques and investigative techniques.”

A request for Mr. Saucerman’s formal resume from Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost was not fulfilled.

The report and the Sumner staff

The use of a private investigator in what was considered a personnel matter exacerbated an already-tentative situation among Sumner staff. The report itself raised concerns with Mr. Tonan, who felt some of the responses to questions were not accurately reflected in the report. Additionally, terms like “founded,” “unfounded” or “sustained” were used liberally throughout the report to establish credibility or to discredit those who were interviewed, according to Mr. Tonan.

At one point, Mr. Saucerman’s report expressed the following conclusion about Mr. D’Emilio.

“This investigator did not find Mr. D’Emilio credible during the investigation…Although he admitted to being dishonest with [redacted], this investigator must question the overall integrity of Mr. D’Emilio.”

Mr. Bock explained that Mr. Saucerman applied “the legal standard of the preponderance of evidence” to make a determination about the credibility of Mr. D’Emilio and other parties involved.

“This preponderance standard is dictated by California courts and in layman’s terms means that it is ‘more likely than not’ that something occurred or did not occur,” Mr. Bock said.

Jan B. Tucker, a private investigator out of Torrance and 7-term chairman of CALI, noted that this kind of legal terminology would be used more appropriately in police disciplinary actions, not in personnel investigations.

“The use of terms like ‘sustained’ makes me think that Saucerman is running it like an internal affairs investigation at a police department,” Mr. Tucker said. “It’s a little like a kid playing dress-up. It is ridiculous for investigators to use terms like that. We are not judges.”

Mr. Tucker, who has been a full-time, licensed private investigator in California since 1979, added that investigators are typically hired to conduct investigations and collect data through interviews, but not to draw conclusions.

However, Mr. Saucerman contends that a private investigator’s task goes beyond just fact-finding, as investigators are paid to collect information and make a recommendation to the client based on what is gleaned.

“We’re hired to do an investigation and make a determination,” he said. “Collecting evidence is part of the investigation, but it’s not all of it. An investigation is to make a determination on whether or not something occurred.”

Mr. Bock stands by the report and investigation, stating, “It is a standard and proven practice to hire an outside, impartial investigator to thoroughly examine the situation, gather and report the facts.”

Through community support and reconsideration by the board, Mr. D’Emilio will begin to put the ordeal behind him and return to the classroom. The methods used in the investigation, by CUSD and the board of education have undoubtedly impacted the community, but the lasting effect this has on future personnel matters remains to be seen.

[Maura Larkins comment: In this incident, a 7-year-old girl kissed and laid on top of an 8-year-old girl. Is that child abuse? Usually an abuser is older than the abused child, not younger. I can understand why a principal might not report the matter to the district. He probably decided it was experimentation between children of the same age rather than abuse. I don't see this as immoral behavior by the principal. It was a tricky judgment call. Do you want to label an inquisitive 7-year-old as a child abuser?

On the other hand, I have concern for the 7-year-old. Is she being abused? That is the question that needs to be investigated. But apparently the matter was reported to Child Protective Services before it was reported to the principal. So that's not an issue.

If there is a district policy that principals should keep the district in the loop in every case, then I can see why the district would be unhappy. But it seems a stretch to say the principal was immoral. Districts need to be constantly vigilant about this issue. They should be doing their own oversight on a regular basis, not calling in an investigator to find something once in a blue moon. Districts should know a lot about every employee. But they don't bother. In my district, Chula Vista Elementary, the district basically did not know, and didn't seem to care, what kind of people were working in its schools.]

EARLIER REPORT CUSD dismisses principal over handling of student incidents
Claremont Courier
May 17, 2012

Sumner Elementary School Principal Frank D’Emilio has been placed on unpaid leave after failing to notify officials of suspected child abuse incidents.

The decision by the CUSD board stems from occurrences in May 2011 where 2 female students, ages 7 and 8, allegedly participated [with each other] in acts on campus that were sexual in nature.

Mr. D’Emilio was suspended by the CUSD board as a result of an investigation and closed-session discussion at the Thursday, May 3 meeting, where the board dismissed the principal for violating the state’s Education Code relating to “immoral or unprofessional conduct, dishonesty, evident unfitness for service and for persistent violation of or refusal to obey the school laws of the state.”

In his response to the Statement of Charges provided by the district, Mr. D’Emilio submitted his resignation as the principal of Sumner, but stated that he would like to return as a classroom teacher for the 2012-2013 school year.

Mr. D’Emilio was contacted for comment, but declined to elaborate beyond what was submitted in his written response to the district.

Mr. D’Emilio has 30 days from Thursday, May 3 to file a Request for Hearing before an administrative law judge in order to maintain employment with the district.

“I cannot comment other than to say he is allowed due process,” said Kevin Ward, assistant superintendent of human resources. “The hearing is a time when he can enter evidence, review testimony and have witnesses appear on his behalf. The decision of the judge at that time is final.”

On May 3, Mr. D’Emilio submitted a 7-page written response to the allegations, where he apologized for not being forthright with the district. Mr. D’Emilio refutes the dismissal on the basis of immoral or unprofessional conduct and unfitness for service, emphasizing that the alleged incidents were between 2 young students, not an adult.

In December 2011, a parent of a district student at Sumner notified Mr. D’Emilio that she suspected her child had been victimized by another student.

The parent of the 8-year-old said that in separate incidents in May 2011, a 7-year-old female student kissed her daughter and laid on top of her while on the playground.

In another incident, the parent claims that the 7-year-old asked the 8-year-old and another classmate to stand upright as a “pole,” then danced, making physical contact with both girls. Other alleged conduct on the part of the 7-year old included using a leaf to inappropriately touch her classmate...

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