District Attorney decides to not file charges after Poudre School District's destruction of records

Fort Collins Police Department closes case

FORT COLLINS, Colo. - The Larimer County DA says it will not pursue charges against the Poudre School District after it destroyed public records to keep them from the family of a special needs child.

The office of DA Cliff Riedel said it could not prove the district tampered with evidence. Additionally, the DA said the statute of limitations in the case had expired before the complaint was brought to law enforcement.

 

- Emails destroyed -

In March 2011, Ephraim Starr filed a request with the district under the Colorado Open Records Act for his son Isaac's education records, including emails between staff members. He said the Individualized Education Plan the district had provided for Isaac -- who has several disabilities, including autism -- was insufficient. Starr found emails dating back four months before his request in which PSD employees discussed destroying records about his son and his family.

In a December 9, 2010 email, Sarah Belleau, the director of PSD's Integrated Services special education program, instructs her Special Education Coordinator:

"Hi Gloria,

Please delete this e-mail when done…

Please ask all involved staff to delete AND destroy any e-mail or paper records related to this family. When they delete the e-mail, they need to then "empty the trash" Please have them do this immediately. All other records with the exception of the latest plan should be destroyed -- shred. The reason is to protect against an Open Records Request.

Thank you for doing this and for verbally communicating this with staff. I do not want this put in writing.

Sarah"

Then in March, less than an hour after Starr's first email requesting records, Belleau sent another email to district staff:

"Hi all,

I just want to remind you that deleting any unnecessary e-mails and then "emptying the deleted folder" is an important step to take.

Thank you,

Sarah"

Then eight minutes after that:

"Please remember to delete your sent mail as well."

Joe Horky, the principal at Bacon Elementary where Isaac attended school, was also apparently part of the conspiracy. In a March 23, 2011 email  -- just days after Starr's requests -- Horky tells staff members:

"Delete your message!"

"Delete your deleted!"

"Delete your sent!"

Other emails between Poudre School District employees refer to the Starrs as "crazy people" and read, "Just put it in your I.S. [Isaac Starr] file and strap on your waders!" and "Bring it on!!"

 

- Investigation closed -

But the District Attorney's office said it cannot prove PSD tampered with evidence, writing quote, "Any fears of Ms. Belleau that the conflict concerning the subject child might end up in litigation were premature, as the family had not yet enrolled the child in Poudre School District.  We do not believe those fears would constitute proof that she believed an official proceeding was 'pending or about to be instituted,' as required by C.R.S. 18-6-610. In addition, the statute of limitations for an offense of tampering with evidence committed in December of 2010 or January of 2011 expired prior to Ephraim Starr bringing this complaint to law enforcement, barring the filing of those charges."

The letter goes on to say that while "someone could argue" Belleau's second and third emails on March 20, 2011, were meant to communicate that employees should disregard the first, "it certainly cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. "

The Fort Collins Police Department said given the DA's findings, its criminal investigation is now closed.

Officials with the Poudre School District have refused repeated requests by the CALL7 Investigators to discuss the district's current records policy. The district spent more than $200,000 fighting an open records lawsuit brought by the Starr family in 2011, and in January 2014, sued the family over additional testing for Isaac.

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