I-Team: Federal lawsuit involving CCSD police moves forward - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Federal lawsuit involving CCSD police moves forward

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Angela Peterson's car. Angela Peterson's car.
Angela Peterson Angela Peterson
Kevin Miranda Kevin Miranda
CCSD Police Chief Jim Ketsaa CCSD Police Chief Jim Ketsaa

LAS VEGAS -- Depositions have been completed in a federal lawsuit alleging that Clark County School District Police tried to cover up their role in the DUI death of an honors student.

The final deposition to be taken in the case was that of the current chief of police for the school district, who pointed a finger at his predecessor. But, the ex-chief says it's the current top cop who failed to do what was necessary in the investigation.

As of January, the cash-strapped school district had already spent $400,000 on legal bills to defend police employees in the case. Nearly five months later, the meter is still running. When the case gets to court, the district could be on the hook for millions more in damages.

There are questions about why the school police never investigated the circumstances surrounding the death of Angela Peterson almost five years ago. The answer depends on who is asked.

The former police chief says it’s the fault of the current police chief. The current chief says the last chief dropped the ball. Now, a new homegrown music video has surfaced on YouTube. It shows teens at a party drinking what appears to be alcohol. There’s a man in the video who looks like Mark Robbins, a school police officer. In fact, the clothes he is wearing in the video are the same clothes as seen in some of his other online images.

Why would a school cop make a video which shows underage kids drinking to excess, especially when that same officer is one of several school police employees being sued for participating in a very similar party that resulted in a tragic death?

“In the video, he's drinking with minors, he's partying with minors,” said Mark Cook, the attorney for Peterson family. “Ironically, I understand he is being disciplined for being on a video with a fake party, but he wasn't disciplined for being at the real party, drinking with a minor who then killed somebody.”

Cook thinks the video is not only in poor taste but drips with irony because of testimony he has gathered in preparation for a federal court lawsuit against the school district and several employees for the role they played in the Nov. 2009 death of Angela Peterson, an honors grad student killed by a drunk driver.

The driver, 18-year-old Kevin Miranda, had been boozing it up for hours at a party in the home of police dispatcher Rebecca Wamsley. One of those who allegedly brought booze to the party and played beer pong with Miranda was officer Mark Robbins.

Cook has now finished deposing 20 witnesses. What's amazing, he says, is that so many trained police professionals saw so little.

“When you talk about the party and who was at the party, everybody dumbs down. Nobody saw anything. They were all in a groups talking together during the party, but when you ask them all individually, they were all facing the wall. They were all lined up at a party facing the wall,” Cook said.

One of the deposed witnesses is Miranda who says he was drinking along with adults at the party, but no one tried to stop him when he left to get in his truck.

Another witness, Penny Higgins, a former CCSD Police dispatcher, says there were a couple of dozen teenagers drinking at the party with school cops. When the news of Angela Peterson's death broke, Higgins says, a cover-up began and two of her supervisors told her to zip her lip.

“He goes, ‘you didn't see any kids drinking did you?’ And I said, yeah I did. And he said, ‘no you didn't,’ and I said, yeah I did.”

After the I-Team broke the news about the party a few years ago, the school police went into denial. Chief Phil Arroyo called the reports fairy tales and assured employees it would all go away. The employees who attended the party were promoted, not disciplined.

“I'm sure they wanted us to drop dead, dry up, and blow away. Basically, what they did with Angela. We're not going away,” Angela’s father Frank Peterson said in an interview in Jan. 2014.

“Their employees were drinking with underage children and let them leave? And take no responsibility for this. It could happen to their children,” said Linda Peterson, Angela’s mother.

The final deposition to be taken in the case is that of current CCSD Police Chief Jim Ketsaa. At least one witness says Ketsaa attended the party. He denies it, but Cook says what emerged from the depositions are two very different stories about how the school police reacted.

Ketsaa testified that it’s the fault of fired CCSD Police Chief Phil Arroyo that no investigation was undertaken. In Arroyo's sworn statement, he said, he gave that job to then Police Captain Jim Ketsaa.

“The one thing we know for sure, they both say they would have done an investigation, but there was no investigation. They both blame the chief of police, past and current, for not doing the investigation,” Cook said.

He adds, there was one other blockbuster to emerge from Ketsaa's deposition, namely, that the department was told by school district lawyers to not investigate Angela's death and the subsequent cover-up.

“This, in and of itself, demonstrates there was a decision, a policy decision at the school district to not investigate what happened at the party or the allegations of a cover-up. And the reason the investigation did not happen was because the legal department advised them not to.”

A spokesperson for the school district told the I-Team, the reason the order was given that no internal investigation be undertaken is that the district wanted to leave that up to Metro Police, an impartial third party.

Metro did conduct interviews with school police about the party and the alleged cover-up. Metro got the same responses as given in the depositions -- that no one remembered seeing much of anything. A federal judge has already ruled that the cap on damages that would normally apply to a government entity being sued does not apply in this case. It will be up to a jury to make that call.

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