Staff felt silent push
School officials also clashed with police after the ’13 shooting.
Arapahoe High School officials and district leaders clashed with law enforcement working to gather information about the student who killed 17-year-old Claire Davis and discouraged the staff from discussing the attack, according to documents released in the case.
District and school officials repeatedly told parents and the public that they were cooperating with law enforcement authorities and could not discuss the 2013 attack because of the ongoing criminal investigation.
But depositions and evidence released Monday offer a different picture, showing that officials were at times slow to respond to Arapahoe County Sheriff ’s Office requests and even barred investigators from parts of the school during the probe.
Five days after the Dec. 13, 2013, shooting, investigators who wanted to interview teachers and staff members were told they couldn’t be in the school hallways or cafeteria and should wait in the auditorium for staffers to “touch base” with them, according to a Colorado Bureau of Investigation report.
“It should be noted that no members of the teaching staff or administration came to the theatre/auditorium that day to be interviewed,” the CBI agent wrote.
In a statement Wednesday, Littleton Public Schools spokeswoman Diane Leiker said teachers and staff members were “overwhelmed by the large number of investigators” that day and officers themselves decided to wait in the auditorium and a classroom.
The actions by district and school officials frustrated staff members and parents and stalled investigations for months after the shooting, according to depositions of teachers, school administrators and Littleton Public Schools officials.
Some of the incidents detailed in the depositions included delays in performing internal reviews and district leaders struggling to provide investigators with complete files, the documents show.
A report by the University of Colorado Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence and the University of Northern Colorado’s Department of Criminal Justice found that in the months leading up to the shooting, school administrators failed to properly communicate and track safety concerns about Karl Pierson, the 18-year-old student who killed Davis before taking his own life.
Avoiding those errors, including failing to share information with law enforcement, might have averted the attack, according to the report released Monday.
The CU report, along with two other reports, 12 depositions and 64 exhibits, was part of a months-long battle by the Davis family to release information surrounding the shooting.
In April, the board of education voted to approve a proposal from the family agreeing to start arbitration to avoid a lawsuit by the Davises. Under the agreement, the school district helped examine the events that led up to the shooting, specifically the handling of multiple outbursts by Pierson.
Pierson stormed into the school through a proppedopen door with a pump-action shotgun, ammunition, a machete and three Molotov cocktails. He shot Davis in the hallway and eventually killed himself in the school library, where he had gone to look for Tracy Murphy, the debate coach who had removed him from a leadership position on the team.
Months before the shooting, Pierson shouted that he wanted to kill Murphy. But a threat assessment done on Pierson — which the CU report determined to be deeply flawed — concluded that specific threat was spontaneous.
Murphy, who testified that administrators did not take his concerns about Pierson seriously, said after the shooting that the school staff felt pressure not to talk about the attack. An employee from another school within the district told him they had been told by administrators not to ask Arapahoe High staff members about the attack.
“The message was direct from their administration to leave us alone, to have no contact with us at Arapahoe. There could be disciplinary action if they were to do that,” Murphy said. “And that shocked me.”
Then-superintendent Scott Murphy, who has retired, sent an e-mail to the staff two days after the shooting. He instructed the staff to send any information request from a “source outside of Littleton Public Schools” to the district’s communications office. When asked, Scott Murphy said the e-mail wasn’t intended to stifle communications among teachers or with parents, but he wasn’t surprised it did.
Leiker said employees also were told via e-mail that they could be held liable if they electronically published or posted “negative information” about others.
“The e-mails did not instruct employees not to discuss the shooting,” she told The Denver Post in a statement.
School officials were repeatedly slow in delivering information about Pierson to law enforcement, the documents show.
Almost two weeks after the shooting, investigators had not received Pierson’s school records. In a struggle to locate the file, an investigator cautioned the school’s attorney that an unwillingness to cooperate could be considered an obstruction of justice.
The file did not include the threat assessment completed on Pierson when it was first given to investigators, according to a report from the sheriff’s office. During a meeting with law enforcement a month later, investigators were still missing documents.
Leiker blamed some of the confusion over a misunderstanding of how the records are housed. She said Pierson’s files were given to investigators as soon as they were gathered.
The sheriff’s office report, which was released in October 2014, found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by the school district.
Littleton Schools Superintendent Brian Ewert addressed many of the relevant shortcomings and remedial steps in a report that will be presented to the school board Thursday. The district also asked other safety and mental health experts to examine its procedures and processes. Findings from those resultant two reports were released Monday and will also be passed on to the school board.
The Littleton district and Arapahoe High School have improved their threat assessment protocol, the report said, but it recommended more changes to district policies and practices.
But teachers interviewed during the arbitration said the district and school have been slow to acknowledge mistakes.
In July 2014, Scott Murphy declined to participate in a study proposed by the sheriff’s office. That study would have been completed by the same center that completed the report released this week, but Murphy said the proposed study seemed “premature.”
Leiker said district officials expressed concerns about the scope of such a study in 2014 and how it would be conducted. She said it offered to provide information “but never heard any more about the study.”
State lawmakers on Tuesday urged school administrators to procure copies of the new reports and apply painful lessons. Davis’ parents helped draft a measure signed into law in June that allows lawsuits against schools after shootings and other violence.
The reports will be presented at the legislature to the Interim Committee on School Safety and Youth in Crisis at 1:30 p.m. Friday.