Staff felt silent push

School of­fi­cials also clashed with po­lice af­ter the ’13 shoot­ing.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Jor­dan St­ef­fen

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.

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