NBC 7 - Congressional Leaders Weigh In On Felony School Notifications
Both U.S. Representatives Scott Peters and Susan Davis are weighing in on federal law enforcement agencies' notification policies after NBC7 Investigates uncovered a situation in which a teacher's aide was able to continue working after a felony border drug bust.
A San Diego Unified special education aide continued working in the classroom after he was arrested at the border with more than $500,000 worth of cocaine and methamphetamine, court records show.
He was able to hang onto his job because federal law enforcement agencies do not have a policy or law that requires them to notify local agencies or schools about felony prosecutions.
"This is just preposterous," said U.S. Rep. Scott Peters. " It really goes to Washington's ... sometimes they are tone deaf to community needs. So, as a parent and as a taxpayer, I think it's just outrageous."
Federal court records show Garrett Anthony Clifton was pulled over at the San Ysidro Port of Entry last April trying to enter the United States with 9.9 kilos of methamphetamine and 8 kilograms of cocaine.
Over the next several months, Clifton attended nearly a dozen federal court appearances including pleading guilty to importation of meth and coke on July 25. For the majority of this time, he kept his job teaching special education students at San Diego Unified.
The special education substitute was on his way to work at Mann Middle last Friday morning when NBC7 Investigates asked the district why he was still working with children. He is set to be sentenced to federal prison on Feb. 28 for importation of cocaine and methamphetamine - a charge that carries a minimum 10 years imprisonment and maximum of life in federal prison.
"When I get back to Washington, we're going to make some phone calls and write some letters and get down to the bottom of it - to make sure this doesn't happen again," Peters said. "I don't want it happening here. I don't want it happening anywhere else. It's not fair to locals."
NBC7 Investigates received the following statement from Homeland Security Investigations, the agency responsible for investigating Clifton's arrest:
“In criminal cases where a defendant is found to have regular contact with children, a variety of factors impact Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) decision as to whether notification of the subject’s employer or other associated parties is warranted or appropriate. Factors include: is there evidence the defendant has previously harmed children; are there indications the defendant is engaged in ongoing abuse of children; and finally, does the subject appear to pose an imminent threat to the safety of the children with whom he or she interacts. HSI is reviewing the matter to determine if appropriate procedures were followed."
U.S. Rep. Susan Davis said the school district should have been notified.
"It's appropriate for federal law enforcement to notify school officials in cases like this," Davis said via an e-mail statement. "I will be following up with the federal agencies involved regarding the policy in place, if it should have been applied here and if there are legislative remedies needed."
San Diego Unified officials have also urged the Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Attorney's office to change their policy and notify them of future arrests and prosecutions of their employees.
"State law enforcement agencies have a pretty efficient system in place for giving us an official notification, so the feds may want to model their policies after that system," said Moises Aguirre, the Executive Director of District Relations for the school district.
School Board President Kevin Beiser agreed.
"What I do know is that when we have employees working with children and they're arrested with $500,000 worth of narcotics, we need to know about that, so that we can make sure that we're doing everything we can to keep our kids safe," Beiser said.
NBC7 Investigates also checked with the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of California to find out if there is a routine employer notification or verification process within the court's duties.
"This clerk's office is not tasked with any responsibility to notify an employer if a defendant is being prosecuted," said Clerk of the Court John Morrill. " That’s not our role. That’s not what we do."
Morrill added that a judge or prosecutor may ask Pretrial Services to verify a defendant's employer, if there is question about the validity, but there is no standard procedure for it to automatically happen.
A defense attorney for Clifton declined to comment on this case.