in Houston, Texas
Houston ISD flip-flops on status of investigation into former Yates High principal; records to stay closed
Wednesday, Sep 07, 2011, 09:10AM CST
By Mike Cronin
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Houston school district officials said earlier this year that the district’s police department had finished its investigation into a flurry of sexual misconduct allegations against the former principal of Jack Yates High School.

So, why did HISD officials tell the attorney general of Texas that they couldn't release records regarding the criminal probe because the investigation was still ongoing?

“I don't know the answer to that,” said district spokesman Jason Spencer on Friday.

But, “HISD is not investigating the case,” Spencer said. He did not know when the HISD police finished its investigation. A district lawyer was looking into the matter to find out if HISD officials could provide more information, Spencer said.

The Harris County district attorney looked into the Mumphery allegations and declined to file charges. The Houston Police Department told Texas Watchdog in February it was not involved in the Mumphery probe and had no records about the matter.

The accusations against Mumphery date back to the early 1980s. They include allegations of staff members exchanging sexual favors for preferential treatment and overtime pay from the principal. One woman said that Mumphery grabbed and sexually touched her when she was a 17-year-old cheerleader in 1984.

HISD officials put Mumphery on administrative leave in September 2010 after Superintendent Terry Grier received an anonymous letter accusing Mumphery of sexual misconduct. Mumphery filed retirement papers a few days later.

Around that time, district officials released to Texas Watchdog its personnel records on Mumphrey, including the anonymous letter. Also around that time, the district said its police department would conduct its own probe.

In January, when then-HISD spokesman Norm Uhl said the district police department’s probe was complete -- “HISD PD’s part of the inquiry is finished,” he wrote in an e-mail -- and Texas Watchdog filed a public records request seeking documents pertaining to the criminal probe.  Another HISD spokesman also told a Houston Chronicle reporter at that time that the investigation was complete.

In response to that second query, HISD released to Texas Watchdog the one-page cover sheet of the offense report in the case, but said the Houston Police Department would have to be contacted for any other information.

The Houston Police Department soon after said it was not involved in the Mumphrey probe and had no records. Meanwhile, a Texas Watchdog reporter called the HISD police officer listed on the report as having handled the Mumphrey investigation. The officer said he completed a report and took notes while interviewing the parties involved in the case, which would likely mean HISD had records on the case it had not released.

On Feb. 2, Texas Watchdog reiterated its request to HISD for the Mumphrey file to HISD, and said that if the district intended to withhold records, it was required by law to seek permission first from the state attorney general.

In response, HISD’s lawyers told the attorney general that the case was still under investigation.

And even though Texas Watchdog told the attorney general that HISD had admitted in writing that the case was closed, the attorney general sided with the school district.

Assistant Attorney General Nneka Kanu wrote in an April letter that HISD could keep the Mumphery files confidential because the investigation was not completed.

State law requires that the attorney general side with public agencies when they say they have an open investigation, even when the person requesting the records has evidence otherwise, an expert on Texas open government laws said.

“It's a fox-watching-the-henhouse-routine,” said Tom Gregor, a Houston lawyer who provides legal advice for the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. “The attorney general is not a fact-finder. It's a legal interpreter.”

Mumphery told Texas Watchdog last year that the sexual misconduct accusations against him were unfounded.

According to the report that HISD officials released, investigators found that the allegations by the former cheerleader – and current district employee – be “highly credible” and that the woman “had no motive for lying.”

Despite finding the interviews with alleged victims and witnesses to be credible, HISD “found no evidence that Mr. Mumphery was currently engaging in inappropriate conduct with students at Yates High School.”

***
Contact Mike Cronin at mike@texaswatchdog.org or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.

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