Sept. 23 SHS incident report raises concerns 

The report of an independent investigator into the Salida Police Department’s response to the Sept. 23 lockout/lockdown at Salida High School makes recommendations for “opportunities for improvement” for Chaffee County dispatch, the department and School District R-32-J.

At the same time, the report raises additional questions about school officials’ response.

On Sept. 23, city police received a report that an individual was upset, had a gun and was heading to the high school, which led to police responding, and then a confrontation with David Blackburn, R-32-J superintendent, over who was the incident commander.

The report by Travis Carr of Investigations Law Group of Denver states that both county dispatch and Salida police should have activated the emergency notification system when the call was first received.

The report said this would have alerted all schools to the incident and could have potentially resolved subsequent communications issues.

In addition, the report said dispatch should have  provided a description of the person who was the potential threat and noted that city police did not record the entire incident on officers’ body cameras, but only a portion of what happened at the school.

One of the issues at the time was who was the incident commander. When he arrived at the scene, Mr. Blackburn stated he was in charge. The report notes that when an incident starts in a community setting it is law enforcement that is in command of the incident.

The Carr report states that Mr. Blackburn’s “proclamation that he was incident commander and his subsequent removal of law enforcement from the school was not in alignment with best practices” of the National Incident Management System, was contrary to the handling of previous incidents “and put the students and staff at risk.”

Among the report’s findings was that law enforcement’s level of response was appropriate; that communication from school staff indicated police presence and support was necessary; that lockdown and lockout protocols met best practice standards; and that the lockout decision was in accordance with policy and necessary given safety concerns at the time.

Among concerns raised in the report was the conduct of Talmage Trujillo, SHS principal. The report cites an incident shortly after the start of the current school year when a parent contacted high school officials, asking that criminal charges be brought based on an assault.

The report states the parents were told that Salida police were not pursuing criminal charges and that Mr. Trujillo referred the case to Full Circle Restorative Justice. When city police were informed, officers investigated the case, which resulted in felony charges being filed.

During the Sept. 23 incident, Mr. Trujillo did not  initially tell officers of his location but then said he was going to lunch at McDonald’s. When police went to the restaurant, however, they did not find him.

Was Mr. Trujillo being truthful – to the parents inquiring about the assault, to police in the midst of the Sept. 23 incident?

What should be of great concern to R-32-J school board members is Mr. Carr’s statement that district officials “denied in bad faith and without cause” his CORA requests. In a report footnote he writes that portions of the CORA information he requested were subsequently released to a Denver-based online news medium.

School board members should be reviewing the report and asking questions of both Mr. Trujillo and Mr. Blackburn, of the Sept. 23 incident as well as the felony assault charge, and reporting their findings to the community.

— MJB