In May, about a month into her investigation of molestation allegations against a Woodside Elementary School teacher, a Concord police detective hit a roadblock. A Mt. Diablo school district attorney refused to turn over a key internal report on previous abuse allegations against popular fourth- and fifth-grade teacher Joseph Martin.
The detective, as recorded in portions of a police report obtained by this newspaper, was trying to identify potential victims of Martin when she was told she would need a search warrant to get a version of the 2006 report without key information blocked out. Detective Tamra Roberts reminded Deputy District Counsel Deborah Cooksey that the district was required by law to report child abuse suspicions and the names of potential victims. Only then did the district hand over the unredacted report.
The police report is the latest document calling into question the district's handling of Martin. It also shows that the district continued to resist sharing information even after the district's superintendent and general counsel were fired in April, largely over issues of trust and transparency.
Martin has pleaded not guilty to 125 felony molestation charges involving 13 former students; he remains in jail awaiting trial.
The May 30 police report and an earlier legal claim show that a 2006 internal district report from an outside law firm found "allegations (against Martin) did at least suggest the subject matter of potential child abuse."
This newspaper has previously reported the existence of the 2006 district report based on the legal claim, which was filed by alleged victims of Martin and makes a brief reference to its contents. After having a public records request denied, this newspaper has sued to get a copy of the full report.
Teachers and district employees are considered "mandated reporters," required by law to report any suspicions of child abuse to police or Child Protective Services. No one reported Martin in 2006, the year the district's report was compiled.
In a phone interview Friday, Cooksey said the district delayed handing over the 2006 report to police in May of this year in an effort to follow federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) laws, protecting the privacy of student education records. One student mentioned in the report, Cooksey said, had already been "traumatized."
A youth law attorney said districts often cite such laws to avoid releasing inflammatory documents. But FERPA allows districts to release documents to police in criminal cases, or in health or safety emergencies, said Bill Grimm, National Center for Youth Law senior attorney.
"California mandated reporting laws are very clear and I don't think FERPA is a shield to relieve the district from its responsibility to report," added attorney Marc Lewis, who represents alleged Martin victims in a legal claim.
Concord police began investigating Martin on April 25, when he was pulled from his Concord classroom and placed on paid leave.
During a May 21 phone conversation with Roberts, Cooksey requested a subpoena be issued to release the Martin report. The detective said she issues search warrants for criminal cases and "I told (Cooksey) that generally, a search warrant suggests a lack of cooperation," Roberts wrote in the police report. Cooksey told the detective she was worried about keeping student confidentiality and sent a version of the report with names blacked out.
"Cooksey emailed back saying, 'If, after reading the report, you feel you need student names, we request that you request it via search warrant,' " the detective wrote.
Upon receiving the redacted report, Roberts reminded Cooksey of the district's legal responsibilities as mandated reporters and said that she needed the names to help find "any possible student victims," the detective wrote.
"I told her that I did not know why the allegation was not reported to police in 2006, but regardless, we were aware of it now," Roberts wrote. "I told her that as a mandatory reporter, the school district has a legal obligation to provide the police department with the names of any potential victims."
On May 29, Cooksey sent an unredacted version of the report to detective Roberts.
Cooksey said Friday the district was trying to do the right thing.
"We weren't stonewalling; we were doing what the law requires us to do." The deputy counsel said the FERPA law protects the privacy of student education records.
"It prevents us from providing information without parental consent," Cooksey said. "We were very concerned about the person mentioned in the report who was traumatized enough."
A call to Roberts on Friday indicated she was out of the office until next week, and the on-duty watch commander said he was not briefed on the case and declined to comment.
Cooksey's dealings with the detective started one day after the district hired interim Superintendent John Bernard, the father of Martin's principal in 2006, Jennifer Sachs, who now works for another district.
Cooksey said Bernard had no say in dealings with the detective. "We put a wall around him because one of his family members was involved," she said.
In an email, Sachs said she no knowledge of any requests for reports. Bernard did not return emails and calls for comment Friday.
The police report contains only excerpts of the April 26, 2006 internal school district report. It says the investigator found "potential child abuse," but it also says, "there was no finding that any unprofessional or illegal activity was committed." The district report added there was no activity that should lead to administrative action, saying his actions "appear to be well meaning."
The internal report called for special procedures for Martin, such as keeping his classroom door open when alone with a student, but the detective notes that none were followed.
Martin also typed a letter included in the internal report, Roberts wrote.
"Thank you for the time and energy all of you devoted to investigating the unfortunate situation of this spring. In light of some of the statements made in the district report regarding me showing 'favoritism,' I thought it would be appropriate to submit to you some of my parent evaluations from both the boys and girls in my class."
Roberts wrote the 14 positive evaluations were requested by Martin, and concluded: "It seems to me that Martin may possibly be using these annual evaluations, along with the papers/questionnaires he has students complete regarding what kind of touching/affection they are comfortable with, etc., as evidence in his defense in the event allegations are made against him."
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.