Lopeteguy suit alleges KHSD demanded illegal database searches on students, employees

UPDATE (Monday, March 20, 3:15 p.m.): KHSD officials have issued the following statement:

The Kern High School District is unable to comment upon the allegations being made publically against it by the attorneys representing KHSD’s Chief of Police Joe Lopeteguy, which is an obvious attempt to prejudice the District in the media, the community, and with the potential jury pool.

The District will not, and ethically cannot, argue this case in the media, which is improper. Further, the KHSD is legally unable provide information to the public regarding police officer personnel matters, due to the strict prohibitions against disclosing employment information involving police officers. This leaves the District unable to publically defend itself in this regard or to provide the public with relevant and important information about this case at this time.

However, the District looks forward to the opportunity to vigorously defend itself against this lawsuit and to provide the court and jurors with evidence related to this matter and the parties involved.

The Kern High School District is represented in this case by defense attorneys Arnold Anchodorquy and John Szewczyk of Clifford and Brown in Bakersfield.

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The Kern High School District is facing a lawsuit by one of its former police chiefs.

Joseph Lopeteguy, who had served as chief for the KHSD, filed the complaint alleging harassment, retaliation and intimidation for refusing to follow orders to illegally conduct searches using a law enforcement database.

The complaint filed is for violation of labor code; violation of The Bane Act; intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligence; violation of The Ralph Act; unlawful employment practice; constructive and wrongful termination and retaliation; failure to prevent harassment and retaliation; violation of Public Safety Officers Bill of Rights. 

The Kern High School District has not commented on the complaint, saying it has yet to see a copy of the lawsuit. 

Lopeteguy claims that, while the district’s police chief, he was asked by administrators to conduct the searches using the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, also known as CLETS.

 In the complaint, given to 23ABC, it states that, “while serving as police chief for the (KHSD), Lopeteguy received an email which conveyed a request from KHSD director Stan Greene. It requested approval to search the DMV records of student athletes using his ‘call sign’ as police chief utilizing CLETS. One of the reasons for the request, the suit alleges is that Green was looking to catch ‘residence discrepancies which would preclude rival school athletes from playing on various sports teams for those schools.’”

 Lopeteguy allegedly refused because it violated CLETS usage rules.

Otis Jennings, Lopeteguy’s director of pupil personnel, allegedly told Lopeteguy that searching CLETS databases were “past practices,” which meant they were practices that had previously been exercised. Jennings allegedly told Lopeteguy to let him know if “he had a problem with that.”

Lopeteguy again allegedly refused.

Two days after Jennings’ request, secretarial staff allegedly illegally conducted the search on athletes.

After finding out that illegal CLETS searches were taking place, Lopeteguy had officers investigate the misuse of the CLETS database. The investigation found that senior school administrators conducted “thousands of illegal searches” using the database.

The investigation also found that the database was used to conduct searches on employees, job applicants, students, parents and athletic competitors, amongst others.

Lopeteguy decided to turn over the investigation into the district’s use of CLETS to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office.

At that point, Lopeteguy alleges harassment by the district. He claims the district harassed him, created a hostile work environment, threatened retaliation, physically followed him and subjected him to an unwarranted investigation, intimidated him, surveilled him, illegally recorded him and forced him into a “fabricated” administrative leave of absence.

Lopeteguy is being represented by the Law Offices of Young & Nichols; Seth O’Dell; Carpenter, Zuckerman & Rowley.

A press conference is scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday to discuss the complaint. 

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