Employee's personal cell phone seized, searched, pictures copied by DISD Police. Why?
Many DISD parents and others read the story in the Dallas Morning News regarding former DISD hall monitor Tyrone Hughes. But things aren't always what they seem on the surface.
As we dug a little deeper, here's what we found.
It all started when Hughes, an ex-NFL superstar, accidentally dropped his personal (non-DISD-issued) cellular phone in a hallway at South Oak Cliff High School and it was picked up by a student.
According to Hughes, he and a supervisor later watched as a campus security camera captured student Clarence Winkfield picking the phone up right after Hughes dropped it.
Winkfield pocketed the phone, took a few pictures with it (photo, video [video requires free Apple Quicktime player]), made a few phone calls on it and then sold it to a fly-by-night cellular phone "broker" for $20 [just to clarify earlier reports: the phone wasn't pawned--it is illegal for pawnbrokers to accept merchandise from minors].
Hughes searched his cellular phone's call records and found that Winkfield called his grandmother, Virginia Johnson, and eventually his mother Hazel Ann Winkfield--a woman who, according to Dallas County, has a criminal history that includes convictions for theft, drugs and multiple acts of prostitution.
The mother would claim, according to an investigation [may have to click on the picture to zoom in] conducted by Robert Walters--an investigator with DISD's new Office of Public Responsibility (created after the procurement card scandal), that Hughes threatened the life of her son on May 4 if the phone wasn't returned.
Hughes would claim that he threatened to call the police and press charges if his cellular phone was not returned.
Walters chose to believe the mother. "[The] evidence suggests that Mr. Hughes had the motive and opportunity to place the threatening calls to the student's mother and grandmother about his well being," wrote Walters.
Hughes would also claim, in a subsequent administrative hearing, that Winkfield's grandmother (Virginia Johnson) threatened to tell the District about "certain pictures" Hughes had on his phone--if Hughes kept threatening to press charges.
The pictures, of course, were of the now-famous private parts of Hughes and a girlfriend that each had taken and emailed to each other's cellular phones.
DISD Police Officer Bruce Weaver and Lieutenant Calvin Howard retrieved Hughes' cellular phone from the Winkfield family.
Neither Weaver nor Howard returned the phone to Hughes.
Instead, according to an email from Weaver, Hughes' personal pictures were "copied" from the phone and sent to South Oak Cliff High School Principal Regina Jones.
None of the pictures, referenced by Jones in her email to Weaver, were inappropriate or even questionable in the least.
Even then, Hughes wouldn't get his phone back.
DISD police, as a matter of fact, would keep Hughes' phone for almost a month. When they finally returned the phone to Hughes, it was missing his "SIM" card (the card containing Hughes' phone numbers and other important information).
Hughes also claimed that pictures were erased from the phone.
Hughes subsequently received a termination letter that accused him of:
- Possession of obscene and/or pornographic material while on campus
- Threats made to students and/or parents
The crux of the issue, however, remained the pictures of Hughes' (and his girlfriend's) private parts on Hughes' personal cellular phone.
Hughes appealed the firing.
In a tape made at Hughes' "level two" appeal, DISD Attorney Valerie Carrillo defended Winkfield and how he came by Hughes' phone. The phone was not stolen, according to Carrillo, but had been "lost" by Hughes.
"Mr. Hughes talked about it, he dropped his phone and just for the record, that really means an item is lost, not stolen per se," Carrillo said (listen to Carrillo's remarks here).
Hughes was subsequently criticized by Carrillo and Principal Jones for watching the surveillance video that identified Winkfield as the culprit who picked up the "lost" phone.
"So he shouldn't have even been viewing these videos," Carrillo asked Jones? "No, [neither Hughes nor a co-worker] have the authority," replied Jones (listen to the exchange regarding the security cameras).
The surveillance video in question was subsequently erased.
As to why the District chose to believe Winkfield's mother over Hughes, Carrillo said "the grandmother and the parent, really I wouldn't think, would have any reason to lie" (listen to Carrillo's statement).
The District did not, at the time of Hughes' hearing (when the recordings were made), have any statement directly from Winkfield.
"We call that 'hearsay'," said one attorney we interviewed for this article.
Perhaps the most interesting statement made at the hearing regarded the charge of "possession of obscene and/or pornographic material while on campus." Carrillo acknowledged that there is no DISD policy specifically addressing this issue.
Carrillo explained that technology changes so fast that policies can't keep up, and seemed to suggest that District policies might need to be adapted on the fly.
"Technology's so advanced every day that sometimes our laws, especially our laws and policies don't always keep up with every single detail of your own personal cell phone," Carrillo explained, "but I think it could be argued and applied that not just the district's tech equipment but your own equipment [...] I would make that argument that [the policy] would be applicable to your own personal property [...] or equipment" (listen to Carrillo's remarks).
Hughes still has one more level to go in the grievance process: the Board of Trustees. Hughes' appeal was scheduled for December. It has been moved to January.
I have to say that in my years investigating and reporting on DISD, this has to be the most disappointing example of senior-level behavior, and decision-making I've seen.
Worse yet, it involves the very people who are supposed to protect the District from abuse: the Office of Public Accountability and the DISD Police Department.
By the way, if you haven't read Kent Fischer's "DISD response team armed to the teeth" in the Dallas Morning News, it's worth a read.
According to Fischer's investigation, the department spent $50,000 on the elite team including purchasing assault rifles and body armor to deal with "active shooter" situations.
But back to Hughes.
Hughes is convicted on "opportunity and motive" yet "guilt or innocence" seems to have fallen by the wayside.
Translation: did he do it?
It should concern every employee that the District might consider "opportunity and motive" to mean "guilty as charged."
DISD attorney Valerie Carrillo who, as a lawyer, represents and speaks for the District, seemed to defend Winkfield and Winkfield's family at every turn.
We'll freely acknowledge that, just because a person has a criminal record, doesn't mean she is lying.
But to claim that the family of a son who "found a lost phone," used it (more on this in a moment), and hocked it for $20 had no motive for lying might be called a "stretch" by a reasonable person. No?
And calling it a "lost" phone? Let's put this in perspective again.
Tyrone Hughes accidentally dropped his personal cellular phone. A student, Clarence Winkfield, picked it up. Instead of taking it to the lost and found, he used it and sold it. For a dumb guy like me, that sure sounds like theft.
But an attorney pointed us at another interesting section of the Texas Penal Code:
§ 33A.04. THEFT OF TELECOMMUNICATIONS SERVICE. (a) A person commits an offense if the person knowingly obtains or attempts to obtain telecommunications service to avoid or cause another person to avoid a lawful charge for that service by using:
(1) a telecommunications access device without the authority or consent of the subscriber or lawful holder of the device or pursuant to an agreement for an exchange of value with the subscriber or lawful holder of the device to allow another person to use the device;
(b) An offense under this section is:
(1) a Class B misdemeanor if the value of the telecommunications service obtained or attempted to be obtained is less than $500;
How can the DISD Police Department--an organization sworn to uphold the laws of the State of Texas--justify not prosecuting Winkfield for theft of Hughes' service?
Further, we keep asking ourselves why Officer Weaver and the DISD Police department searched Hughes' personal cellular phone in the first place? Why did Weaver share the pictures with a DISD principal, and then keep the phone for almost a month?
There are also questions as to whether DISD's search and seizure of Hughes' phone violated State or federal law.
"This probably is a violation of Title 18 [federal law as it relates to electronic communication], as well as state law dealing with search warrants, seizure without a warrant, etc.," our attorneys told us.
We offered DISD Police Chief John Blackburn a chance to answer several questions. He declined through a DISD spokesman claiming "the investigation" is ongoing (though he did not clarify what "the investigation" was about).
So there we have it: more questions than answers.
Will there be an investigation into DISD's handling of the Hughes affair? Will there be an investigation into other employees' conduct and will another employee be found to have a legacy of questionable behavior in his or her past?
Another question centers around Carrillo's position of apparently making up policies on-the-fly. This (listen to Carrillo again) should have every teacher, staff member, student and parent extremely concerned.
Tyrone Hughes needs to hire a good attorney.
District taxpayers need to get ready to shell out another hefty sum of money to pay for this latest debacle.
Instead of sounding like Christmas, it's sure beginning to sound more like Halloween.