School hires then fires convicted felon; video allegedly shows man smoking substance off foil

DENVER - 7NEWS has learned a Denver elementary school paraprofessional, who was fired after officials say he was caught smoking something off of foil near campus, was not given a drug test before he was hired.

A witness who lives near Wyatt Academy said he shot video of the man, who has since been identified by school officials as Brett Sawyer, allegedly smoking the substance in his car across the street from the campus.

From the video it is hard to tell what's going on, but the man who shot it said he has no doubts about what he saw last Thursday.

"He had foil and was lighting underneath the foil. He was smoking whatever was coming off the foil. It was something dirty. I watched him get out of his car and he completely walked across the street and walked right into a classroom," the man who didn't want to be identified told 7NEWS.

According to the neighbor, the smoking incident happened not once, but two days in a row.

"Sure enough at 11:30, he came back out and started doing exactly what he was doing the day before," the neighbor said.

Fed up, he called police first and then the school. Video footage shows school faculty members as they confronted the employee while he was still inside his car.

"His body language showed they caught him in the act of something," the neighbor said.

"We take this kind of thing very seriously," said Wyatt Academy Principal, David Trajtenberg.

Trajtenberg said Sawyer has worked with 5-year-olds at the school since January. He confirmed that Sawyer was immediately suspended, then fired after he refused to take a drug test.

"We don't have evidence as to what he was doing. We did see the videotape the neighbor brought," Trajtenberg said.

7NEWS reporter Molly Hendrickson showed up at Sawyer's home, where he simply said, "no comment," before quickly closing the door. He also failed to return our calls.

7NEWS uncovered the school missed some big red flags. Records showed Sawyer was arrested in 2009 after police found a pot grow inside his Fort Collins home.

A search warrant showed they found nearly 50 marijuana plants, a gun, ammo and drug paraphernalia. Since then, court records show Sawyer has violated his probation several times, most recently last year.

"We submitted background checks upon employment and we had not yet received the results of a background check," Trajtenberg said.

"Is that standard that somebody starts working with students before the background check comes back?" Hendrickson asked.

"That's a great question, and something we're certainly looking into. We followed our internal process around hiring, we followed it very closely, we do believe it is aligned with statutory requirements, with that being said, we certainly see that that may not be enough," Trajtenberg answered.

Trajtenberg said the paraprofessional was not given a drug test before he was hired.

"These are procedures that we need to look into, tighten up and make sure these things don't happen again," Trajtenberg said.

Students were sent home with a letter on Wednesday explaining what happened and why the employee was fired. 

The case has now been turned over to the Denver Police.

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