LAS VEGAS -- The Clark County School District is not having much luck with its choices for chief of police. The first two chiefs hired by the district left while under fire, and now multiple investigations are underway into alleged wrongdoing under Chief Phil Arroyo.
Metro has launched a probe into the circumstances surrounding a fatal DUI crash in 2009 that occurred after school cops were partying with a large group of teenagers.
"Chief Arroyo had a meeting, pulled in everybody that was involved, and assured them he was going to make all of this go away and they were all perfectly safe and nothing would happen and he is not resigning," said former CCSD police dispatcher Penny Higgins.
It did not take long for Higgins to hear from former co-workers at the school police about attempts to keep a lid on the scandal that has rocked the department. Higgins is one of the few employees willing to speak publicly about the events of November 2009, when CCSD cops had a drunken party with more than 20 teenagers at the home of one of their dispatchers.
In full view of CCSD police officers, teenager Kevin Miranda got drunk, drove away from the party, and killed college student Angela Peterson. Letters and emails sent to the I-Team by more than a dozen current and former school police employees say a cover-up was instituted almost immediately, ordered by police Chief Filiberto Arroyo.
Arroyo won't comment publicly, but wrote dismissively in an employee newsletter about mere "rumors and innuendos" and urged employees to stick together. Several say orders were given to employees to keep their mouths shut. Flyers for the booze party were purged from department email.
"The email, from what we understand, should have been retained in their own system for a three month period. So it should have been there unless someone directed it deleted," said Peterson family attorney Marc Cook.
Cook says the alleged cover-up isn't merely a scandal, it's criminal. In the aftermath of the Peterson DUI death, an internal investigation was opened within the school police, though employees say the probe bypassed any witnesses who would not agree to the cover-up. Metro reviewed the school probe but did not conduct its own investigation, which directly contradicts claims made by Chief Arroyo that his officers had been "cleared" by Metro.
If an investigation was underway, even internally, then destroying evidence or intimidating a witness is a felony, Cook says. "That's preventing or dissuading a person from testifying or giving evidence," he said.
Chief Arroyo wrote in an email to the I-Team that he in unable to comment on what he says is a personnel matter. But others are talking. Several witnesses have talked to Cook in case he files a federal lawsuit on behalf of Angela Peterson's parents. And witnesses, including Penny Higgins, are also talking to Metro Police, who are now formally investigating a wide range of allegations made against Arroyo's department.
CCSD Police have a history of scandal. The first police chief, Elliott Phelps, was fired in 2005 after four years on the job when it was discovered he never received state certification to hold the position. No one at the district had bothered to check.
The second chief, Hector Garcia, resigned two years later under a cloud. Garcia approved payments of tens of thousands of dollars to a consultant who happened to be his friend and former co-worker at the Palm Beach School Police, which is the same place Phil Arroyo worked.
Arroyo, who was also close with Garcia, was installed as acting chief during the time Garcia was under investigation, but the probe ended after Arroyo said key records could not be located.
"I feel that cops cover for cops and when corruption reaches a certain level, it's widespread," said Angela Peterson's father Frank Peterson.
Peterson's parents say they have tried to convey to the school district their concerns, but Superintendent Dwight Jones turned down a requested meeting. CCSD employees say they too have told both the superintendent and school board members about the cover-up and other problems in the department, but their tips were ignored.
Cook wants to hear why the people who essentially allowed Angela Peterson to die and then covered it up are still employed.
"If the chief really is the guy in charge and was not aware this was going on, he should have suspended people and-or fired people and do their own investigation. And if he's involved, he should suffer the same consequence. It seems like there has been enough time at this point for the superintendent to do something," he said.
Friday at 5:00, the I-Team's coverage of the top brass within school police continues with a look at other criminal matters where cover-ups were allegedly initiated by the department.