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Records: Disagreements between STEM School, sheriff's office led to school's use of private security

Posted: 5:20 PM, May 10, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-10 20:05:41-04
School Shooting In Highlands Ranch, Colorado Leaves 1 Dead And Multiple Injured

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. – STEM School Highlands Ranch did not have a school resource officer from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office on duty this school year and instead opted to hire a private security guard after disagreements between the school and the sheriff’s office over the duties of the officer and funding of his position, according to records released to Denver7 Friday under the Colorado Open Records Act.

The sheriff’s office on Friday afternoon released a statement from Sheriff Tony Spurlock and a cache of documents outlining what led STEM School Highlands Ranch and the sheriff’s office to end their relationship last summer, and for the school to hire a private, armed security guard who is now being both praised and scrutinized for his actions during Tuesday’s shooting.

In the statement , Spurlock says the sheriff’s office had entered into a public contract with STEM School and Skyview Academy, another charter school in Highlands Ranch, in which the two schools would share one school resource officer from the sheriff’s office.

The SRO would split his duties between each school every day. Fifty percent of the position’s funding came from the sheriff’s office and each school paid for one-quarter each.

As part of the agreement, the deputy’s duties were outlined to specifically include providing education and counseling on law enforcement matters to students and faculty at the school; coordinating law enforcement activities involving the schools; and investigating law enforcement and public safety issues. The schools were also to provide the SRO with a phone and computer.

The SRO assigned to the schools for the 2017-18 school year was Deputy Griggs. He fell ill in April 2018 and was put on modified duty, while other deputies and sheriff’s office supervisors covered his duties until school ended in May, according to a letter from DCSO Lt. Lori Bronner, who is the SRO commander and Youth Programs commander for DCSO.

That May, STEM School Executive Director Penelope Eucker sent a letter to the sheriff’s office asking it to reimburse the school nearly $6,800, saying the agreement between the school and the sheriff’s office “has not been honored.”

“Throughout the year we met with Deputy Griggs to outline our expectation including presence at STEM during 50% of his working hours and casual interactions with students during school rounds,” the letter said. “These expectations were not met.”

The letter also asked for a new SRO for the 2018-19 school year and to be able to help pick which deputy would be assigned to that position.

In June, Spurlock responded with a letter back to Eucker saying he agreed to forgo billing the school for the last four months of the contract, when Griggs was on leave.

“I am sorry that STEM School is dissatisfied with the services we have provided. It appears we do not share a common understanding of the role our school resource officers play in educating our community’s youth and protecting our schools,” Spurlock wrote, in part.

He also wrote that he learned the school had not given the SRO a secure office or phone and computer as stipulated by the contract, and said that he had learned the SRO was being used primarily for traffic direction and parking control after complaints from businesses nearby the school – which was also not the main part of the contract.

He said that was not the job of an SRO but offered to provide deputies under a different contract, but said that he was “electing not to renew” the SRO contract between the sheriff’s office and the school.

Eucker then responded to that letter in late July, seemingly puzzled. She cited “unexpected changes” in the SRO program and “many areas of miscommunication” and asked for a meeting with Spurlock, Bronner, herself and a board member.

She told Spurlock that she felt Griggs was not up to the standard of past SROs at the school, adding that they had had SROs at STEM since 2013.

“With five years of outstanding partnership with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, we had become accustomed to a standard of partnership. We struggled with Officer Grigg’s time on campus and engagement with students. We met with Sargant [sic] Bronner and Officer Griggs about misalignment of excellent past and less than acceptable current performance. Sargant Bronner explained there was no other choice as the department was short-staffed.”

She also claimed that Griggs “had full access to fourteen private spaces” at the school and said a previous SRO had “welcomed this policy” about using shared workspaces.

She ended the letter by saying: “Our SRO provides a critical role in our emergency response protocol. We sincerely hope that we can work through any misunderstandings and have a SRO on campus for the 2018-19 school year.”

The sheriff’s office says it met with the administrators as Eucker had requested and presented three options: Assign Griggs only to Skyview full-time; notify STEM that they could either have no security, hire a private security company, or hire a deputy through the Deputy Association; or third, look for additional money to hire a new SRO, which would be split between STEM School and Plum Creek Academy.

Bronner sent a letter to Spurlock documenting the saga. It outlines numerous instances while Griggs was on modified duty in which either she or other deputies filled in at the school and went out of their way to attend school events, like graduation. The letter also referenced a screenshotted text sent from Eucker to Griggs in which she said, “BTW, you are awesome and I so appreciate how you are a leader in our school.”

The letter also says that she did not want to send Griggs back to STEM after their letter and recommended not moving other SROs “to accommodate STEM’s preference.”

The letter says the meeting between the administrators and the sheriff’s office representatives happened Aug. 6, 2018. It says the sheriff’s office told Eucker that it did not have an SRO available for 2018-19 and gave her and the board member the three other options.

But the sheriff’s office says Eucker and the school never responded.

“We later learned STEM Academy hired a private security company. They did reach out to DCSO and requested a deputy for 3 hours a day to be visible and assist with driveline traffic only through off duty employment with the Deputy Sheriff Association,” Bronner’s letter to Spurlock states.

Spurlock elaborated in his statement and said the sheriff’s office never heard back from the school following the meeting.

“The Sheriff’s Office did not hear back from the STEM school except to hire off-duty deputies as traffic control,” he said Friday.

“The Sheriff’s Office also offered to provide our School Youth Education and Safety in Schools program, however this past year, those officers were not able to obtain the time in the STEM school due to no response from the school.”

And Bronner told Denver7 the school did hire a part-time, off-duty deputy through the Deputy Sheriff Association who provided traffic control at the school for three hours a day on each school day for the 2018-19 school year. The deputy would also walk around inside and outside the school if they had time, Bronner said.

The public release from the sheriff’s office comes as investigators look into whether the private security guard fired toward deputies during Tuesday’s shooting, and if a bullet from the weapon of the deputies or the guard injured a student, sources have told Denver7.

After the release, Gil Rudawsky, a spokesperson hired by STEM School Highlands Ranch following Tuesday’s shooting, issued the following statement:

“STEM School administration partnered with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) from 2013 through early 2018, and they provided a School Resource Officer (SRO) for STEM School Highlands Ranch. That partnership was excellent from our perspective, but we began to have challenges with the SRO assigned to us in 2018. We expressed our concerns directly to DCSO, and they offered us a better alternative to have a daily part-time, off-duty sheriff’s deputy with a squad car. We supplemented that with full-time private security services provided by BOSS High Level Protection. That combination gave us a significant increase in protection for our staff and students.

“The unfortunate fact is that schools with and without SROs have experienced violence. With regard to the tragedy on May 7, 2019, we credit both the actions of our private security guard, the team of DCSO law enforcement officials who were on scene within two minutes, and the heroic students and staff members at STEM for minimizing the number of fatalities and casualties.

“Our No. 1 priority has been, is, and will remain the safety of our students and staff.”

Kendrick Castillo, 18 , died heroically in Tuesday’s shooting, taking down one of the alleged shooters, and eight others were injured. The suspects in the shooting are due back in court next Wednesday , when they are expected to learn the formal charges they will face in the shooting.