Attorneys for San Diego Unified School District reject claims made by former investigator Michael Gurrieri that he was terminated after finding the district was trying to hide sexual assaults on a local elementary school campus.
Court documents filed by district attorneys state that Gurrieri was incapable of conducting an adequate investigation and had asked school-district officials to fire him because the job was too difficult for him.
The documents are in response to Gurrieri's September 25, 2015, lawsuit, which accuses superintendent Cindy Marten, head attorney Andra Donovan, and Gurrieri's boss, executive director for San Diego Unified's quality assurance office, Carmina Duran, of firing him for allegedly trying to bury a series of sexual assaults at Green Elementary in San Carlos and for blowing the whistle on the school's principal, who, Gurrieri said, was often absent from work and when he was present reportedly drunk on the job.
According to his complaint, Gurrieri, a former detective from Charleston, South Carolina, was asked in May of 2014 to investigate allegations that a kindergarten student forced a classmate to allow him to perform oral sex on him while in the boys’ bathroom. Over the course of his five-month investigation, Gurrieri claims he discovered that Green Elementary's principal at the time, Bruce Ferguson, was aware of several alleged sexual assaults on campus but failed to act on them. Gurrieri claims he also found clues that Ferguson was drinking alcohol on the job.
Upon submitting his report, Gurrieri says head attorney Andra Donovan, his boss Carmina Brown, and superintendent Cindy Marten suggested that he cut any mention of previous sexual assaults as well as any mention of Ferguson's alleged drinking problems.
On December 4, 2015, attorneys hired by San Diego Unified to defend the case answered Gurrieri's allegations.
"[T]he initial version of [Gurrieri's] report was based on hearsay, unsubstantiated rumors and gossip, rather than evidence," reads the district's answer. "It also addressed facts and issues unrelated to the issue Gurrieri was asked to investigate.
In his initial report, according to the court document, Gurrieri did not find that Ferguson had mishandled the sexual complaint. He also refused to meet with the parents to discuss his findings.
Gurrieri, says the district's answer, drafted a new report. In the second version he claimed that Ferguson had acted appropriately and failed to find any evidence of allegations from parents that Ferguson was drinking on the job.
"At no time did Gumeri complain about any information being withheld from anyone, nor did he ever suggest that anyone attempted to influence his findings. To the contrary, Gumeri consistently argued to Duran, in writing, that he felt his report should be kept confidential from the student's [sic] parents and not released to them at all. He argued that the student's [sic] parents had 'manipulated' the investigative process with their 'unreasonable and hostile demeanor.' Duran responded to Gumeri that she appreciated him sharing his concerns but that [San Diego Unified] must comply with the law, and the law required [San Diego Unified] to produce a copy of the report. Thus, it was Duran who was requiring transparency, not Gurrieri."
Continued the district's complaint, "Gurrieri struggled to perform his job adequately in other ways as well, forcing Duran to offer verbal counseling on his performance. Nevertheless, Gurrieri failed to adequately improve his performance. He particularly struggled to understand his responsibility to complete assigned cases in a thorough, objective and timely manner. His struggles forced Duran to research policies and procedures that pertained to Gurreri's assigned cases, a task that should have been Gumeri's responsibility. Duran also had to help Gumeri identify the relevant witnesses for his cases and determine the appropriate questions to ask the witnesses. His reports were poorly written, lacked structure and often lacked conclusions based on verifiable facts."
Gurrieri, claims the district, forced the district to fire him.
The different versions of events likely mean a long legal battle ahead and that parents of the students who have reported assaults will have to wait to discover the truth about the allegations and the actual findings of the investigation.
A civil case management hearing is scheduled for April 2016.