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Incident not going away for school district

Imagine how you’d feel if your kid went to a party and got completely shit-faced while in the presence of a gaggle of cops. Not only cops, but school cops.

Now imagine that your drunken youngster stumbled out of the party, climbed into a car, and drove away at a high rate of speed, only to smash into another vehicle a few miles away, killing the innocent driver of the other car.

Would you be angry at the school cops for not only drinking booze alongside your kid, but for failing to take the keys away or to get the kid sobered up before he left the party? How do you think the parents of the dead driver would feel if they learned that the school cops, instead of launching an investigation into what happened at the party, dropped a cone of silence over the scandal, ordered employees to keep their mouths shut, punished employees who dared to speak out, and promoted those who agreed to keep the cover up going?

The school district has done one hell of a job over the past four years of pretending the whole mess would simply go away, but that strategy of concentrated prayer and haughty condescension is no longer working. In fact, the Clark County School District and its school police are pretty much out of options now that a federal magistrate has ruled in favor of Frank and Linda Peterson, the still-grieving, real-life parents of UNLV grad student Angela Peterson, killed by 18-year old drunken driver Kevin Miranda. There is no question whatsoever that Miranda was boozing it up at a party hosted by a CCSD police dispatcher and attended by several off duty CCSD cops, as well as a few dozen teenagers.

The first strategy for CCSD was to pretend nothing happened. Then they tried covering it all up, including the intimidation of any employees who might want to do the right thing and tell the truth. Ex-police chief Phil Arroyo, who was eventually fired after the grim details oozed out of CCSD PD, initially laughed and scoffed at news stories which detailed the attempted cover up. He assured his employees that the whole thing would go away soon.

That’s the same attitude adopted by CCSD’s legal staff, which hired two excellent private firms to defend the district and seven or so employees who attended the party and are named in the Peterson’s suit. A careful reading of the depositions given in this case reveals an orchestrated pattern of what appear to be outright lies and omissions. CCSD was certain it would prevail, that the whole thing would be tossed out of court, and that the Petersons would skulk away.

Not so. Judge Larry Hicks and his staff worked their tails off to read massive amounts of legal paperwork. In the end, they saw through CCSD’s dismissive attitude. Hicks says the Peterson lawsuit is justified, that there is plenty of evidence to prove that the school cops really screwed up when they failed to stop the kid from driving that night. And, the judge says, there is also substantial evidence of an attempted cover up by the school police.

CCSD has already spent more than $400,000 on legal payments to the two law firms to represent the off-duty employees, according to Karen Gray at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. Assuming this goes to trial, the dollar figure will explode. The attorney for the Petersons’ Mark Cook, says the employees and the district face millions in possible punitive damages, especially when a jury gets to hear the emotional story of Angela Peterson’s death, and the truly disturbing lengths to which CCSD honchos have gone to keep a lid on the scandal.

There’s another cost to all of this that is not easily quantified. Members of the association which represents the school cops say a dark cloud hangs over the department, that every cop who works there feels the shame of this cover up, and those who have information say they still feel intimidated about coming forward with information. More than a few times, the officers say, they have been chided by members of the public because they work for the department “that likes to get drunk with kids,” an allegation that is completely unfair to the overwhelming majority of officers. Those officers are astonished that there has never been an internal investigation within the school police of this horrible incident, especially since lesser allegations are almost always run to ground.

The school district can no longer pretend that the case will be going away anytime soon. In response to the latest ruling, the district said it feels for the Petersons but denies that there was any cover up or that its officers had anything to do with Angela’s death. This suggests that the ostrich defense will continue.

The Petersons will have their day in court, and no amount of hoping or wishing or condescension on the part of the school district will change that.

The Entsminger Saga:

I find it hilarious that water bosses have been forced to schedule another vote to ratify the appointment of John Entsminger to replace Pat Mulroy as head of two water agencies. In their hurry to appoint Entsminger before any momentum could build for perhaps a national search for other candidates, the water bosses did what they have always done. They rammed the choice down the throats of their so-called masters, the elected officials who sit on the water boards, while forgetting about a little thing called the open meeting law.

For more than 20 years, Pat Mulroy has dictated to elected officials how things would be. The decisions were always made behind the scenes, and only when the votes were set in stone would the public get to hear anything about the decisions. And it’s worked out so well, hasn’t it? The huge rate increases that had to be rescinded? The disastrous third straw? The $100 million or more already wasted on the water grab, described as “Plan B”? So why not rig the appointment of Entsminger, just as Mulroy ordered, while ignoring an open meeting law that has been completely eviscerated by the water agencies for more than two decades? It’s a perfect end to a sordid little saga, a sad but telling layer of frosting on the cake.

GEORGE KNAPP is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8.