Moss on district's involvement in Battery Creek investigation: "I don't see that as overreach."
Superintendent Jeff Moss and Beaufort County School District officials defied deputies’ orders to stay out of a criminal investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by a Battery Creek High School teacher last fall when they spoke with the teacher after being told not to, which led to a confrontation between Moss and a deputy, according to a 32-page report recently released by the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies reported that, in addition to disregarding their orders not to interview the teacher, the district initially withheld the victim’s name from them, changed locations in the school without telling deputies where they were and met with the teacher by themselves behind a closed, locked door — actions that could have been seen as an attempt to interfere with the criminal investigation.
Though no charges were filed against the district, a deputy warned Moss that he “would be hindering this investigation if he continued speaking with the teacher,” and Moss is quoted in the report as saying this same deputy threatened to arrest him.
Deputies also noted in their report that Moss became “agitated” and “upset” when they tried to question the teacher and, at first, did not let the deputies in the room with the teacher.
On Tuesday, Moss denied any efforts by the district to obstruct the Nov. 16 investigation involving Spanish teacher Fabian Jaimes, who was accused of kissing at least one female student on the cheek and inappropriately touching others.
The Sheriff’s Office investigation closed Jan. 10. While Jaimes admitted to kissing the student on the cheek, no charges were filed against him because investigators couldn’t pinpoint any law broken. The Beaufort County Board of Education fired the teacher in late November.
Jaimes, who was in the United States on a work visa from Colombia, was deported after his termination. Attempts to locate contact information for him were unsuccessful.
Moss said that once the district had been notified of the incident, they turned it over to the Sheriff’s Office. He declined to comment on the deputies’ handling of the case.
“From your questioning, you’re trying to make it be a battle between the school district and the sheriff’s department and one overriding or superseding the other’s authority and that’s not the case,” he told a reporter Tuesday evening.
However, less than 24 hours later — after he had obtained a copy of the report and had read the Sheriff’s Office’s account of the district’s behavior — Moss changed his mind about commenting on the handling of the case.
On Wednesday, he referred to information in the deputies’ official version of events as “false” or “misleading” and offered explanations for the discrepancies in accounts that were sometimes contradictory.
The Sheriff’s Office issued a supplemental report Wednesday to correct the identity of a deputy who Moss said threatened him with arrest.
As for the rest of the information Moss considers inaccurate, Sheriff P.J. Tanner said late Wednesday evening, “I stand by the report.”
If it wasn’t ‘something,’ ‘she wouldn’t be here’
The tension between the district and deputies that arose on the afternoon of Nov. 16 appears to have started shortly after school Principal Chad Cox notified the school resource officer, Cpl. Jeremiah Webb, of the incident.
School resource officers, or SROs, are Sheriff’s Office deputies who provide security and crime prevention services to the county’s schools.
Webb contacted his supervisor and indicated that the school had already alerted the district and that Alice Walton, the district’s chief administration and human resources officer, was on her way to the school.
All told, Capt. Alfredo Givens, who oversees the special services division — which includes SROs — SRO supervisors Lt. Chris Sankowski and Staff Sgt. Isaac Fripp, as well as investigator Sgt. Brandon Disbrow, responded to the scene.
When Webb and Fripp asked Walton for information about the incident, she was not forthcoming.
“Walton was very limited in the information she would provide,” Fripp wrote in the report. “However, she did state if it wasn’t ‘something,’ ‘she wouldn’t be here; she would be in her office.’ ”
According to the report, Walton and Cox refused to give deputies the victim’s name and refused to call the victim’s parents, stating that they wanted to interview the teacher first and were waiting on Moss, who they said was on his way from Robert Smalls International Academy, which is three minutes from the school.
Webb and Fripp, who were waiting on Sankowski and Disbrow to arrive, informed Walton and Cox that this was an active investigation and that the district was not permitted to interview the teacher, according to the report.
After Sankowski arrived — about 35 minutes after Webb and Fripp were informed that Moss was on his way to the school — the three went to the principal’s conference room where they expected to find Walton and Cox and found that the two administrators were no longer there.
It is unclear at what point Cox and Walton moved locations, when Moss arrived at the school and how long the district was alone with Jaimes after being told by deputies not to interview him.
While deputies knew that the teacher had been separated from students and was on the second floor of the school, they were never informed by Walton or Cox that the teacher had been moved to an unused first-floor classroom. Instead, they learned of the administrators’ and teacher’s location from an unnamed person near the conference room.
“She advised (deputies) where we could possibly find Mr. Cox, Mrs. Walton and the teacher,” the report states.
‘It appeared that Doctor Moss was interviewing the teacher’
In a classroom on Hallway A, according to the report, deputies found Walton, Cox, Jaimes, assistant principal Gilbert Sanchez and Moss.
“It appeared that Doctor Moss was interviewing the teacher. I knocked on the door and attempted to open it but found that it was locked,” Sankowski wrote in the report.
Sankowski advised Moss that “this was an active investigation” and told Moss that Walton and Cox had already been informed by Webb and Fripp that the district was not to interview the teacher.
At first, Moss did not let deputies into the room and argued with them.
“Moss then asked, ‘What proof do we have that something occurred?’ ” Fripp wrote in the report.
Sankowski wrote, “Doctor Moss became agitated and told me he needed to interview the teacher to find out what happened so that he could notify the state Department of Education.”
Upon reviewing the case, Sheriff Tanner also said the superintendent and staff interviewed Jaimes despite being told not to.
On Thursday, through district spokesman Jim Foster, Walton and Cox denied interviewing the teacher.
Moss also denied interviewing the teacher while defending his need to speak to the teacher. He said he was never told by deputies not to interview the teacher.
“I asked him one question: Did he know why he was there?” Moss said, adding that he was with the teacher in the locked room for “all of one minute.”
Asked how the teacher responded to that question, he said, “I can’t tell you that.”
According to the report, Jaimes told deputies he never spoke with any administrators about the case and that the administrators were “about to talk to him” before deputies arrived.
Moss said his conversation with the teacher was necessary to “make an employment decision” and to determine whether he should notify the S.C. Department of Education, which manages educators’ certificates.
“The clock actually starts ticking once I’m made aware of something and in terms of how many days I have to send something to the state,” he said.
Asked how many days he had to alert the state, Moss conceded that there is no specific time frame, but that notification should occur within a “reasonable amount of time.” He says he sent a letter to the state department Nov. 20.
State regulation, however, does not specify any length of time for a superintendent to report a certified educator that has been dismissed, resigned or otherwise separated from the district based on allegations of misconduct. Nor does it mention a “reasonable amount of time.”
Moss denies that the district intentionally locked deputies out of the room. He said classroom doors automatically lock for safety reasons and that the door was closed to prevent students from walking in when Moss was speaking with the teacher.
Other ‘inaccurate’ or ‘misleading’ claims from the Sheriff’s Office report
Moss said he will probably “send something” to the sheriff about what he believes are inaccuracies in the report, but said he would not ask the sheriff for a correction.
“I don’t get involved in other people’s procedures or processes,” he said. “I don’t think it’s within my purview to ask him to do something with his reports.”
One of Moss’ primary points of contention is one that the Sheriff’s Office has since clarified in a supplemental report filed late Wednesday by Disbrow. In the original report, Disbrow wrote that he “overheard” Moss stating that Givens had threatened to arrest him if he interfered in the investigation.
Moss said Givens never threatened to arrest him — “I know him very well” — and said the threat came from a different deputy who Moss says did not identify himself. Based on the report, this deputy was likely Sankowski.
“(This deputy’s) statement to me was (that) I needed to leave the area or I could be arrested for interfering with an investigation. That’s the first thing (this deputy) said to me. And I stopped and said ‘First I need to know who you are.’ He did not identify himself as a law enforcement officer or an investigator or anything else,” Moss said.
The supplemental report clarifies that while Moss never said Givens’ name, he had pointed in Givens’ direction saying “that man” threatened to arrest him.
The Sheriff’s Office denies that any deputy threatened to arrest Moss.
In the original report, Sankowski states that he identified himself to Moss and told Moss that he “would be hindering this investigation if he continued speaking with the teacher.” Sankowski’s account does not include any mention of an arrest warning to Moss.
Another part of the report that Moss believes is inaccurate is a statement by Fripp, who wrote, “Moss then opened the door to where Cox, Walton and the teacher were and said these words or words to the effect of, you all come on out and bring our evidence.”
Moss denied Wednesday that he told his employees to “bring our evidence” because, he said, “We didn’t have any evidence.”
Then he said the only evidence the district had was a note exchanged between the student and the teacher earlier that day.
“And that was turned over (to deputies),” Moss said. “Actually, the original note was turned over to the deputy.”
However, only a copy of the note had been given to deputies at first.
According to the report, Disbrow had to track down the original note and retrieve it from school district attorney Drew Davis the next day.
Moss’ final issue with the report is that deputies characterized him as “upset” and “agitated.”
“Well, I don’t know if I’d use the word ‘upset,’ but when I spoke to Capt. Givens I’d probably say, yeah, maybe I would say I was upset.”
Tanner said he understood the district’s position in wanting to obtain as much information as possible about their employee, but said the way the district handled the situation was ill-advised.
Had Jaimes not cooperated with police and declined to be interviewed, the district’s actions could have been a “problem,” prompting questions about whether Jaimes had been coached, Tanner said.
“The maneuvering of the teacher ... was not something we felt was appropriate,” he said. “We have recommended that they don’t choose this course of action in the future because it could hinder future investigations.”