Las Vegas Sun

May 20, 2019

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Accounts questioned after chief leaves

Three months before his departure as chief of the Clark County School District Police, Hector Garcia sent $11,750 in business to a longtime associate to evaluate the feasibility of metal detectors at a North Las Vegas High School.

Within weeks of his Aug. 10 resignation Garcia had new employment - as vice president of his associate's company, the School Safety Advocacy Council, which offers training and security assessments for school police and resource officers.

Now, an internal audit of the Clark County School District Police is being hampered by shoddy record-keeping and missing files.

Audits are common after department head s leave. But the examination of School Police operations is raising a number of concerns.

School Police Capt. Phil Arroyo, one of two veteran officers sharing interim chief duties, said he was surprised that all files were not readily available. Auditors are accessing the hard drives of the department's computers, but "the actual paper documents are not there," Arroyo said. "There's really very little to work with."

Arroyo declined to specify which files are missing.

Clark County Schools Superintendent Walt Rulffes said it would be inappropriate to comment on the audit until the report is complete.

Garcia told the Sun on Tuesday that no one from the district had contacted him for help in locating files.

"I would certainly help if I were asked," Garcia said.

Garcia said the only materials he took with him were personal copies of files and memorandums, all of which he said he thinks are duplicated on district servers and hard drives.

As the audit proceeds, Arroyo said , he is focused on straightening out the department's finances, including unpaid bills.

Among them: costs for attending a July conference in Las Vegas con-ducted by the School Safety Advocacy Council.

For the past two years the Florida-based company has held a conference in Las Vegas, drawing attendees from across the nation. In 2006 Garcia spent nearly $10,000 on registration fees to send 50 employees. A bill for the conference from July 2007, totaling about $15,000, remains unpaid while district officials resolve discrepancies over how many employees attended.

The company's executive director, Curtis Lavarello, worked in the Palm Beach County School Police Department in the 1990 s, at the same time as Garcia. And while Garcia was chief of Clark County School Police, he served on Lavarello's advisory board.

Garcia said sending department staff to the conference was a worthwhile expense, given the caliber of the guest speakers and workshops.

The district was charged for 81 attendees at the July conference. But Arroyo said department records show only about 45 people - including clerical and support staff - attended . He has asked the company to provide a sign-in sheet from the conference to clear up the discrepancy.

"We're still waiting for a reply," Arroyo said.

In May, at Garcia's recommendation, the district paid Lavarello $11,750 to study whether metal detectors were feasible at Canyon Springs High School in North Las Vegas. They money came from the region office responsible for Canyon Springs High , not School Police funds.

Because the consulting job was less than $25,000, the district was not required to put the job up for bid or get approval from either the superintendent or the School Board.

Still, Phil Gervasi, president of the Clark County School Police Officers Association, said he was bothered by Garcia hiring his associate as a consultant.

Lavarello did not return phone calls or e-mails from the Sun seeking comment.

Garcia said his decision to hire Lavarello to study metal detectors posed no conflict of interest. Lavarello was the most qualified and affordable consultant for the job, Garcia said. And Garcia emphasized that he did not become Lavarello's vice president until after he decided to quit as chief.

Rulffes said Garcia's decision to hire Lavarello for the consulting job "does rise to a level deserving some scrutiny."

Ronan Mathew, principal of Canyon Springs, said he requested the feasibility study after two incidents last year in which students brought loaded handguns to campus.

Lavarello spent about two hours touring the campus during a visit in May. In a 14-page report submitted to the district in June, Lavarello concluded that metal detectors were not feasible at the school. He made a number of suggestions for improved campus security, including better signs directing visitors to the appropriate entrances and increased staff visibility when students arrive in the morning and leave in the afternoon.

Garcia had spoken out against metal detectors at the district's high schools. Mathew said the former police chief chose a consultant he knew would share his point of view.

"It's my feeling that our concerns were not taken seriously," Mathew said.

The final months of Garcia's tenure were marred by complaints that he was rude during a negotiation session with the School Police union, making a derogatory remark about a federal mediator that was overheard by other participants in the contract talks. Rulffes said he considered that matter closed after Garcia apologized to the mediator and was removed from the bargaining table.

Garcia told the Sun that he is moving to Florida with his family and that serving as vice president of his associate's company is "one of my jobs . " He would not say how much he would be paid for the part-time job. Garcia said he will soon begin class es for his doctorate.

This is the second time in as many years that the School District has lost a police chief. Elliot Phelps, who became the district's first police chief when the department was created seven years ago, was fired in 2005 after it was discovered that he had not completed a state-mandated certification program.

Emily Richmond can be reached at 259-8829 or at [email protected]

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