Sacramento County Sheriff Deputy Dexter Powe says he wants to see the Elk Grove Unified School District be held accountable for the racist actions of one of its administrators.
“The Elk Grove District Director of Safety and Security discriminated against five African Americans based on race,” he said.
“The school district is covering up. They’re not acknowledging his racist acts, which is taking away jobs.”
Powe, 52, of Elk Grove had been the full-time School Resource Officer (SRO) at Sheldon High School for 12 years. “It was the best time of my life,” he said of his stint at Sheldon High School. “I really felt that I made a difference at the school.”
But he decided to leave his SRO job at Sheldon High School in April 2017, after experiencing what he felt were several targeted acts by the Director of Safety & Security.
“There were things that happened to me before I left in April,” he said. “It was so bad. I was specifically targeted.”
Even though he had left his job as SRO at Sheldon High School, he still wanted to be available to work security at school events at the school in the 2017-2018 year.
Powe was shocked to learn from a deputy attending a meeting of SROS on July 22 that Joseph Airoso, the Director of Safety and Security for EGUSD, had made racist comments about Powe and four other black deputies who often worked off-duty with him at Sheldon High School.
“The director of security was in the meeting, and he said, “the soul patrol is done – they can’t work at Sheldon or all of the school district,” ” according to Powe. The attending deputies told Powe that the comment about the “soul patrol” was made in reference to five black deputies, who were also described as “the old Sheldon crew” and “Dexter’s crew” by Airoso. The five included Powe, Lt. Deborah Johnson, Sgt. Ray Duncan, Deputy Latoya Buford and Deputy Anthony Jenkins (recently promoted to Sergeant).
Then on Aug. 1, 2017, Powe saw that he and four other black deputies were not on the list to work any football games at Sheldon High School for the upcoming 2017-2018 academic year. “It showed that we were restricted from (working at) Sheldon High School, and the other four deputies were not assigned any games in all of Elk Grove School District,” recalled Powe, who was allowed to work at other schools.
“I got phone calls from the other affected deputies, and we talked among ourselves,” he said after seeing the schedule. “This is racist, and we were trying to figure out what to do – whether to complain to the school district or the sheriff’s department.”
But before they did and, another deputy assigned to the school district noticed the omission of the names of the black deputies from the schedule, and pointed out to district officials that what they were doing was wrong, according to Powe.
On August 16, another list of names of deputies and police officers who were to work games in the district for the academic year was released. “They said to disregard the August 1st list – here’s the final version,” Powe said. “At that point, the other four deputies were assigned games in the Elk Grove School District but no one was able to work at Sheldon.”
Powe said he was assigned several games at other schools, but he didn’t want to work at any until the issue of racial bias was resolved.
“It was an effort to cover up what was done, which was a ban on African Americans,” he said of the revised list. “They added the other four to the list randomly. They were covering up what was done on Aug. 1.”
The same day the revised list was released, the five deputies brought their concerns about the assignments to the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office, and the department went to the school district the next day.
After the complaint was made to the district, Powe said he and three of the other deputies chose not to work at any football games in the district for the 2017-2018 year. One deputy chose to work one or two games but not at Sheldon High School.
Elk Grove Unified School District later hired a private investigator, Chris Reynolds, to follow-up on the deputies’ complaints. He completed the investigation and dated his report November 13, 2017. A redacted copy of his report was given to the other four deputies four days later with a cover letter from David Reilly, Associate Superintendent of Human Resources. Powe did not get his copy of the report, which did not have the redaction, until February of this year. This was five months after the initial complaint.
Reynolds’ conclusion was that all the allegations were unfounded. “I was enraged,” said Powe of his reaction to the investigation report, which he shared with the Elk Grove Tribune. “I was confident that they didn’t do a complete investigation. Their responses were so inaccurate and incomplete.”
According to the redacted report, the following findings were made:
The complainants were denied part time work by the district was based on racial bias by (Airoso).
Off duty SCSO Deputy Powe was banned from working at Sheldon High School by Mr. Airoso based on Deputy Powe’s race.
Both allegations were not sustained, according to Reynolds. The report indicated there was no system in place to ensure that all off-duty deputies were able to work games in the district, as each school resource officer chose who they wanted to work with them. Powe says, that this statement is not relevant to the issue.
In Powe’s case, Reynolds wrote, “he selected essentially the same group of deputies to work with him for each event, leaving very few opportunities for SROs or other off-duty deputies to work at Sheldon High School in 2017.”
Moreover, the report said that staff at Sheldon High School had reported concerns with the deputies that had been historically assigned to Sheldon High School.
One of the concerns was that they were not circulating throughout the events, and more specifically, “deputies were seen congregating together at times when others thought they should be working independently.” The report also said the district had expressed those concerns to the sheriff’s department but did not see any change in the deputies’ behavior at the events.
Reynolds also wrote that Powe was not banned from working at Sheldon High School due to his race, but rather, he and the other four deputies were reassigned to other schools. The reason was the same given for the first allegation, that staff at Sheldon High School had concerns about the deputies not circulating at events which they were assigned, and that officials at the school had spoken to Powe about those concerns. He also noted that Powe was assigned to seven of eight football games for the 2017-2018 year, just not at Sheldon High School.
Powe bristled at the implied bias that he only chose black deputies to work with him, and that they were not doing their jobs at the games.He also didn’t buy Reynold’s explanation that the poor performance was the reason Airoso decided to reassign the five black deputies at Sheldon High School to work at other sites.
“I provided the list of deputies who had worked with me before – white, black , Hispanic – are you saying that all the deputies who worked Sheldon High School are bad performers?” he asked. “We had no reprimand, no communication in any shape or form that anyone – I or the other deputies, had performed subpar. Are you really saying that only that African Americans were performing subpar? Show me any communication on our lack of performance. ”
He noted that three white deputies who often worked off-duty with him at Sheldon High School were not restricted from working there.
Powe noted that he had received nothing but positive evaluations during his entire tenure as a school resource officer (SRO) at Sheldon High School.
He provided a copy of his 2016 evaluation to the Elk Grove Tribune, in which he exceeded standards in leadership, dependability, professionalism, quality of work, and care of equipment. He was ranked “outstanding” in relations, customer service, and problem solving.
He also provided a summary report of what his supervisors had written about him during his tenure at Sheldon High School, with the main focus on the fact that he had no negative performance evaluations.
Powe also maintained that the district never had a set rotation of duty posts at a game, and that if there was, it was set by the SROs, in this case, by Powe. If anyone had set posts, it was the schools’ dayshift security employees, who were not law enforcement.
“They had five security employees assigned for behavior control, crowd control, sweeping for fire lane (blockage), certain gates that don’t have access,” he said. “They have different responsibilities from law enforcement. There were no law enforcement posts, the security people – they have posts.”
The deputies would respond to incidents in the parking lot, such as burglaries, or incidents of assault and drug use in the stands. Powe said there were often fights between rival groups of multi-racial youths at the games, and the deputies made sure that no one got hurt.
Three years before he left, Powe started writing up reports of the incidents which he and his fellow deputies would deal with during each game, and send them to the principal and administration staff.
“The school didn’t know what we were engaging in regards police activity,” he said. “One time, I sent a summary of things to the principal, and the principal said, “we want a meeting – this is making us (Sheldon High School) look ghetto.” I got reprimanded for these email updates, but I’m telling you what is going on with your campus – don’t you want to know?”
Reynolds also determined that the omission of the names of the four black deputies (but not Powe) from the (August 1) schedule was an “inadvertent error” made by the secretary for the director. He noted that it was corrected in the August 16 list after another person had pointed out that only the names of the black deputies were left out.
“This error was not discovered until SRO (deputy) commented to (Director) that the deputies excluded from the list were African American, and expressed his concern for racial bias,” Reynolds wrote.
As the result of that action by the SRO, the secretary then checked with Airoso about the assignments, and was told that all five deputies should not be assigned to Sheldon High School but could be directed to other schools. The secretary then made the changes to the list, and recirculated the updated list on Aug. 16.
“There was lack of credible evidence that the complainants were denied off-duty assignments based on their race,” wrote Reynolds.
But Powe argued that the names of the five black deputies were deliberately left off the list at the direction of Airoso after he had made the racist comment at the earlier SRO meeting.
“When you say “soul patrol” and “Dexter’s Crew” and only African Americans are excluded, that’s racist,” he said. “EGUSD gave 2 reasons performance and administrative error. So I ask, which excuse is true?”
Complainants were denied assignments at district sites ‘without cause.”
“The deputies did not have a right to an assignment at Sheldon High School or any other site within the District,” Reynolds wrote.
“The district assigned deputies to its sites based on the needs of the District.”
Powe said it was his understanding that it was the Sheriff’s Department lieutenant that decides which deputy work off-duty at the district events, not the district.
Even Reynolds noted in his report that “The district did not employ the deputies. They were paid by the SCSO (Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office) under an agreement with the District.”
But even if the district chose to assign deputies, Powe said he was willing to accept that. However, deciding that only certain people and no blacks were allowed to work at Sheldon High School was going too far.
“When you’re excluded based on race, it’s a problem,” he said.
Director (Airoso) made inappropriate remarks about SCSO officers by referring to the above SCSO officers as “old Sheldon crew,” and the “soul patrol.”
“Deputy Powe was not at the meeting, and he based his allegation on the hearsay statement of a third party,” Reynolds wrote. “There is no credible evidence that the statement was made by (Airoso).”
The report stated that “There was credible evidence from District staff and two deputies that it was either Deputy Powe or other deputies that used the phrase, “Soul Patrol.” ” Powe was livid that EGUSD would resort to such a tactic as to accuse him of making the statement.
Powe acknowledged that he was not at the meeting and he did not personally hear Airoso used the phrase “soul patrol.” “These are the words from the people who were at that meeting.”
Reynolds also wrote in his report, “At least three district staff supported a finding that Mr. Powe himself used the phrase when referring to himself and the SCSO deputies in a manner that was not viewed as discriminatory.”
But Powe said he would never use the term “soul patrol” to describe himself or his fellow black deputies, and Reynolds didn’t do due diligence in his investigation. “He only talked to two or three other sheriff deputies who were at the meeting,” he said. “His comment was “I got the gist of it.” “He failed to talk to the very people who were at that meeting.
The investigator’s report also said that if Airoso had used the term, “the old Sheldon crew” to describe the five black deputies who worked at Sheldon High School, “the remark was not inappropriate when taken in context of the circumstances in which it was used. Instead, it was used to reference the group of deputies who had worked at Sheldon for a long period of time.”
Powe asserted it was inappropriate use of the term, as not all the deputies who had worked with him at Sheldon High School over the years were black.
He also pointed out that deputies who worked with him who were NOT African American were not barred from working at Sheldon High School events, but only the ones who were black were banned.
“I couldn’t believe that was their comment,” Powe said.
Powe said he never accused Airoso of saying “Dexter’s black friends” and that the phrase was used by the athletic director when speaking to one of the other four black deputies.
Reaction & Steps Forward
Powe was so angry when he first saw the district’s response that he started making notations questioning the findings as soon as he started reading the report.
“It’s so shameful, a shameful situation,” he said. “I’m just absolutely blown away by what happened.”
After meeting with the other four deputies, he said he and three of the other deputies decided to appeal the district’s findings. One of the deputies, chose not to join in the appeal at this time.
Powe said the written appeal was submitted to the district on Jan. 12 of this year. “They are currently in the process of reviewing our appeal points from the original (report),” he said.
But in the meantime, the district set up individual appeal meetings with each of the four remaining deputies to deal with the appeal.
Powe said he had met with Reilly, the Associate Superintendent of Human Resources for 11 hours in March , as have the other three, but he has yet to know what resulted from those interviews.
Powe has also spoken up about what happened to him at a special EGUSD board meeting about racism in January, as well as to various media outlets.
He filed a 11-point complaint with Elk Grove Unified School District in January 12 of this year, detailing targeted acts by the director which forced him to leave. That was followed by another complaint of retaliation on Feb. 9, only because of what happened last summer.
“He (Airoso) is still targeting me,” he said. “He takes it to a different level and raises it to racism and retaliation. If he won’t stop with me, then let’s put it all on the table. If (he) wants to fight, then I will fight.”
He noted that until this year, he had not spoken up about what happened to him in the past few years at Sheldon High School, especially after Airoso was appointed EGUSD’s Director of Safety and Security Police Services Division in 2015.
“I never complained about the other things, but he went after me, with the “soul patrol” comment and eliminating me from the off duty lists,” he said. “I’m done. I’m going to fight. I’m going to expose not just one thing, but everything you have done to me.”
Powe said that being an SRO was his dream job. He had a positive experience with his high school SRO while he was growing up in Sacramento and going to Hiram Johnson High School.
“I listened to Mr. Ford (the SRO) , not because he was a great thinker, but he had a level of authority. Because of the uniform, I know I have a level of influence, and I use that position to have a positive influence with kids.”
He said despite challenging conditions at Sheldon High School, he said loved his job.”I was devastated that I had to leave that job,” he said. “The director didn’t take my job, he took away my calling.”
Since he left Sheldon High School as SRO, he took a full time position at the Home Detention Unit with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office.Recently, he has also started working once a week as an SRO for the San Juan Unified School District, where he’s based at Encina High School. “I’m not a full time SRO, but I get a taste of it,” he said.
Powe said he and the others haven’t decided they would take take their appeal to the EGUSD’s superintendent or to the state board of education. “He (Airoso) made the comment,” he said. “Make him accountable and we’re done.” Powe has not ruled out the possibility of legal action.
However, Powe said how the district has handled his case is emblematic of how it deals with the issue of racism, which EGUSD has been dealing with in the past year. “They would not address the issue – they want us to go through this drawn out process and hoping that we will go away,” he said.
“If he can do that to five African American deputies, and the school district is covering up about it, how can the 63,000 kids (in the district) have any confidence that the school district would do right by their child? It’s a systemic thing of denial, denial, denial. An implicit bias class does not fix the problem of racism and bias that exist with EGUSD at all levels.”
Statement from Xanthi Pinkerton Spokeswoman of EGUSD
“We take all claims very seriously and complex matters require the time that is needed to conduct a meticulous and unbiased investigation. We understand, however, that a lengthy investigation can be frustrating.
The initial complaint filed by Deputy Powe and four other deputies was received in August 2017 and EGUSD responded in November 2017 with the investigation findings. In January 2018, Deputy Powe and three of the original four deputies appealed the November 2017 findings. Following the appeal, Deputy Powe filed three subsequent complaints.
Because this investigation is still pending, and it involves a confidential personnel matter, the District cannot provide any details.
What we can share is that Deputy Powe has provided an extensive list of witnesses for the District to interview and we are currently working through that list. The district is making best efforts to conclude its investigation as quickly and thoroughly as possible.”