by Mary Shelton
Thursday, Mar. 21, 2002 at 6:12 PM
The conduct of a campus resource officer at Rubidoux High School has sparked controversy and raised questions about the school's decision to allow him to teach inside its classroom.
The conduct of a school resource officer who detained a PTA vice president in the parking lot at Rubidoux High School has come under closer scrutiny by community members.
Riverside County Sheriff's Department Deputy Paul Robles has been the source of concerns and complaints by students and parents for the past several years, community members say.
The most recent controversy stems from an Oct. 23, 2001 incident which began when Jurupa Valley PTA vice-president Tamil Sebastian drove to Rubidoux High to distribute "Say No to Drugs" fliers, and inadvertently parked her car in a spot reserved for staff members. When she returned to her car, she encountered Robles who immediately began yelling at her, she said. At first, she had no idea that he was addressing her.
"People don't talk to me like that," she said. "He was treating me like trash."
He then pushed her into his squad car, and shut the door on her foot. After 20 minutes, he allowed her to leave, and as he departed, he said he hoped the incident did not create bad feelings between them because she did good things for the school. He later told her husband in a meeting that "your wife got in my face," Sebastian said.
Sebastian said that she cried for a long time, after the incident, and has been plagued by increased anxiety and headaches since, necessitating the use of prescription pain medication. But, she resolved to do something about what had happened to her so it would not happen to anyone else.
"If he's treating a 40 year old woman like that, then our kids don't have a chance," she said.
After the incident, Sebastian attended almost every school board meeting of the Jurupa Valley Unified School District and spoke on the issue, even when Robles was assigned to provide security at the meetings. The board never placed the incident involving Sebastian on the agenda for discussion. In fact, at several meetings, school board members including President Mary Burns interrupted the speakers and said that they could not even mention Roblas' name "for legal reasons." Sebastian and others criticized the school board for infringing on their rights to free speech.
In an email, Terry Francke, from the California First Amendment Coalition, agreed that the action did infringe on the free speech of the speakers and cited a 1996 federal court decision which stated that a similar policy once practiced by Moreno Valley Unified School District was determined by Judge Timlin to be in violation of the state constitution. "It is disturbing that the school board has not been briefed on this," he wrote.
Superintendent Rollin Edmunds said that he was aware of the Baca case. "To my knowledge, there is no policy that prevents a person from using a person's name while speaking," he said.
Sebastian is not the only person who spoke to the board about Robles.
The Reverend Bernell Butler voiced his concerns about Robles at a Dec. 10 school board meeting, only to be threatened with expulsion from the building, by Edmunds if he did not quiet down.
Butler said at the meeting that his son, Jerel had been assaulted and pepper sprayed by Robles at school in 1999, which left him with a fractured nose, after he had already been attacked by an adult who had walked on campus. A civil rights law suit has been filed in U.S. District Court in relation to that incident.
Copies of three letters relating similar incidents that occurred in 2000 and 2001 involving Robles have been obtained by the Black Voice. These letters were addressed to Rubidoux High School principal Jay Trujillo and Edmunds. And Sebastian said that many more people have approached her about problems with Robles since her experience has become more publicized.
"Different leaders have come to them(school district) and said there is a problem," she said. "But they have ignored us."
Sebastian met with Captain Peter Labahn, who headed the Jurupa Valley Station, to express her concern about Robles, and said that he had told her that he would personally initiate an investigation into the incident. Shortly afterward, Labahn was transferred out of the Jurupa Valley Station, and was replaced.
Lt. Boris Robinson said that an investigation of the incident was ongoing and would soon be completed.
Edmunds said that he was aware that the complaint had been filed. "Besides Mrs. Sebastian's complaint, we have received two others," he said, adding that the incident involving Butler's son was not included.
Sebastian had tried to file a complaint with the School District, regarding Robles, but was told that she could not because he was an employee of the Sheriff's Department not the district.
Then Sebastian discovered that Robles taught a class at Rubidoux High School in Police Science, which was confirmed by a representative from Trujillo's office.
"He's teaching a class, how could he not be an employee," Sebastian said.
Sebastian then became concerned over the training received by Robles from the school district and the Sheriff's Department. So, she decided to ask for records from the district regarding his credentials as a campus safety officer and as a high school instructor. The response she received from Lucinda Sheppy, the District's administrator of Student and Community Services, surprised her.
Sheppy wrote in a Jan. 31 letter that only a copy of the training for Middle School officers could be provided as the district had no information about training for high school officers available. The copy provided was the curriculum for a two-week program sponsored by Community Oriented Policing Services. Copies of the certificates officers receive upon completing training programs in areas ranging from hostage and suicide intervention to juvenile procedures were also provided.
But what really shocked and upset Sebastian was that the copies of certificates included in the letter were not those awarded to Robles, but to another school resource officer, Craig R. Hampton.
Sheppy's explanation according to the letter, was that she had requested that Hampton provide copies of training that he underwent with Robles.
"I didn't ask for information about this officer," Sebastian said. " I wanted information on Robles."
In a telephone interview, Sheppy said that she had requested copies of the certificates from the sheriff's department and Hampton was the first school resource officer to respond to her request. "I was not aware of any questions by Mrs. Sebastian until I received your message, " she said.
When the Black Voice asked the personnel department at Rubidoux High School for information regarding Robles' credentials as a high school instructor, a representative said that she was uncertain whether that information would be in his file, or if it could be legally released to the public.
Jill Privett, a representative from the Riverside County Board of Education's Credential office, said that whether or not a person has a teaching credential is public information, and can even be accessed on the Department of Employment's Web site.
A few days later, Lori Braunbach, a District personnel representative, said that Robles was currently in the process of acquiring a teaching credential, but that he is "fully qualified" to teach the class. "There was never a need in the past for certification because a teacher of record was assigned," she said. "This year, we opted not to do that."
Robles referred all questions about him to his supervisor, Sgt. John Bracey, who has not responded by press time.
Despite her experience, Sebastian said that she supports the school resource officer program, but has concerns about the assignment of Robles to the Rubidoux High campus and his qualifications.
"This could have been avoided if he had acted professionally," she said. "That did not happen."