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Canutillo ISD refers internal audit on police department to law enforcement

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Details about the departure of a former school district police chief are being kept secret because his retirement letter could “constitute evidence of a potential crime pending detection and investigation” by local authorities.

The Canutillo Independent School District declined to release former police chief Carlos Carrillo’s retirement letter and asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office whether it can withhold the document from the public. Paxton’s office has yet to issue an opinion.

“Because the underlying matter is in the very early stages of the detection of a crime, there is little information to provide in support of this request for an opinion,” attorney Priscilla de Mata of the law firm Blanco Ordoñez Mata & Wechsler, P.C. wrote in a June 28 correspondence to the attorney general. That firm provides legal services for Canutillo ISD.

At the direction of the Canutillo ISD Board of Trustees, the law firm referred an internal audit on the district police department to the FBI hotline, the El Paso County District Attorney’s Office and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office on June 11, Canutillo spokesperson Liza Rodriguez said.

Carlos Carrillo retired as Canutillo Independent School District police chief after two audits critical of the department were released in June. (Photo courtesy of Canutillos ISD Police Department)

Superintendent Pedro Galaviz said the board felt “it was serious enough to warrant a look from those agencies.”

The internal audit found that the 13-member police department had $77,056 in overtime expenses from July 1, 2020, through March 31 despite having no overtime budget. Canutillo schools were closed for much of the fall, with limited numbers of students on campus.

It also found two instances where Carrillo manually entered officers’ time cards on district holidays when Canutillo ISD was closed to students and staff.

Carrillo, who retired June 14, accused the board of using him as a “scapegoat.” He said he has not been contacted by any law enforcement agency since stepping down.

“They’re trying to defer the negativity onto another person, which is me. They’re trying to hurt my family, trying to hurt me, ruin my reputation — that’s what they’re trying to do,” Carrillo said.

“I know I haven’t done anything wrong, I haven’t done anything illegal,” he said. “Everything I did was for the best for the district and the police department and for the safety of our kids and our staff.”

The superintendent said Wednesday that no agency has opened a formal investigation into the audit’s findings.

Pedro Galaviz

“If they feel it warrants, they’ll reach out. If not, our job is to report what we think may or may not (be a potential crime). They’re the experts as to whether it is or not,” Galaviz said.

Sheriff’s spokesperson Chris Acosta said the sheriff’s office is not investigating Carrillo or Canutillo ISD. The FBI and the El Paso Police Department declined to say whether they were investigating, citing agency policy. El Paso County District Attorney Yvonne Rosales’ spokesperson Paul Ferris hasn’t responded to requests for comment.

Canutillo ISD serves approximately 6,200 students.

Carrillo said the overtime costs listed in the audit were inflated because they erroneously contained payments made to part-time officers. He put the true costs closer to $40,000, which he attributed to officers staffing after-hours events. He also disputed inputting hours for officers who didn’t work, saying the police department works a different schedule than regular staff.

Carrillo was critical of the absence of his perspective in the final audit report, but Galaviz said the former chief failed to submit responses for the final audit. Carrillo was also unable to produce documentation verifying his claims about where his officers were those days and what they were doing, Galaviz said.

The internal audit, which the superintendent said was part of a regular audit plan, coincided with an external audit the superintendent ordered into the police department. The superintendent said he wanted an outside review of the department because its budget increased by more than $600,000 between the 2016-17 and 2020-21 school years. The current budget is more than $1 million.

“I just felt it was necessary to make sure as we’re growing, that I can tell the taxpayers that this is what we need, according to experts,” Galaviz said. “The intent was to look at our systems and processes when it came to the police department … we want to make sure that going forward, we’re being prudent and responsible with the taxpayers’ money.”

The superintendent hired Harry Kirk to conduct the external audit. Kirk is a retired El Paso police lieutenant and briefly served as interim chief of the El Paso Independent School District Police Department in 2019.

Kirk found various instances in which Canutillo ISD was not in compliance with Texas Education Code requirements for district police departments, including not having a board policy “establishing and regulating” the department and an absence of written officer duties and responsibilities, among other findings.

Kirk told trustees the problems his audit uncovered were “correctable” at the June 10 meeting where the school board approved both audits.

“There’s nothing here that says, ‘oh my god, the department is dysfunctional.’ But there are areas that need improvement to get them back into line with what they should be doing for the district and for the community as a whole,” Kirk said.

Carrillo submitted his retirement notice four days after that meeting.

Asked why he abruptly retired, Carrillo alleged that certain trustees, whom he declined to name, had been trying to oust him as retaliation for running for county sheriff in the March 2020 Democratic primary, as well as for reporting alleged unethical trustee behavior to the FBI and the Texas Education Agency.

“I felt that the current board — their ideology at the time — and I didn’t see eye-to-eye,” Carrillo said.

Galaviz said he takes “responsibility for anything that happens in this district, however there are people in place to make sure that we are following (the education code), and that is the chief of police.”

Galaviz said he couldn’t comment on whether Carrillo would have been fired had he not retired, calling it a “personnel issue.”

The superintendent has not named an interim chief. Senior officer Joe Kluge is currently overseeing the police department.

Galaviz said the district is exploring options for restructuring the department and possibly having a lead officer in lieu of a chief.

Carrillo was Canutillo ISD’s first and only police chief. A retired EPPD detective, he served as Canutillo ISD’s safety and security coordinator from August 2014 through March 2015, when he was named chief, according to his LinkedIn profile.

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Molly Smith

Molly Smith has been a reporter for the El Paso Times and The (McAllen) Monitor. She’s covered education, criminal justice and local government. A Seattle native, she’s lived in Texas since 2014, with stops in Austin, the Rio Grande Valley and now El Paso. She can be reached at mksmith@elpasomatters.org or 915-247-8857.

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