SAN DIEGO -- Two north San Diego County men claim San Diego Unified should pay up after the district's chief of police rear-ended them on the State Route 78 freeway.
Chief Rueben Littlejohn was driving his district-issued 2007 Ford Crown Victoria to his Oceanside home Feb. 9, when traffic ahead of him near the El Camino Real exit stopped. Littlejohn did not. His car hit a black Ford Focus, pushing it into a white SUV.
Team 10 obtained a copy of the accident report, which places the blame on Littlejohn for driving at an unsafe speed. The report also shows Littlejohn was "on-duty" and was talking on his cell phone at the time of the crash.
Littlejohn's car was so badly damaged a tow truck had to haul it away. The other two vehicles were driveable, according to the CHP report, but the driver of the Ford Focus told Team 10 he had to buy a new car as a result of the crash. Jonathan Mosely said his insurance company is still haggling with the school district for payment.
The other driver, Daniel Aragon, filed a lawsuit in small claims court to cover medical costs associated with the crash.
A SDUSD spokesperson did not use the victim's names, but told Team 10, "one party's injury and property claims have been settled and paid by the District. The other party was paid $1,720.20 to cover damage to his vehicle and the cost of a rental car." The district said the second driver claimed he suffered injuries but failed to produce medical records on the nature and extent of his injuries.
San Diego Unified is self-insured. The district also can obtain coverage through the State-Wide Joint Powers Authority for larger or catastrophic losses.
The district is using the services of an attorney from one of San Diego's largest and most expensive law firms, Higgs, Fletcher and Mack, to fight Aragon's claim. SDUSD declined to provide the total costs related to the Chief's accident, including repair and replacement costs, towing and legal fees.
"What is it going to cost the taxpayers for this accident that the chief caused by being on the cell phone?" asked Sally Smith, a vocal critic of SDUSD and its money management.
Smith says there's a big accountability issue with how the SDUSD Police Department spends taxpayer dollars. In 2014, the department spent $5,000 to transport an 18-ton armored assault vehicle that it got from the federal government for free. The district forced Littlejohn to return the vehicle. Smith says the district recently settled a claim against its police department for $175,000.
"The only way the public knows about the lawsuits on the school police department is to go to the courthouse and review the lawsuits that are filed," said Smith, who claims the SDUSD Police Department and the district try to keep the expenditures under wraps.
There's also the issue of take-home cars. The District claims Littlejohn is on call 24-7, and needs to take his department-issued car home for "rapid after-hours emergency response." The district thus far has not been able to give Team 10 a copy of that policy.
Littlejohn lives in Oceanside, 35 miles from SDUSD headquarters. Even without traffic it would take him up to 40 minutes to get to the district for an emergency. Team 10 has filed a public records request with the district to find out how many emergencies Littlejohn has needed to respond to from home.
Smith said she doubts there have been any.
"The schools police department is not a 24-7 department. It's a part-time, day-time police department. They don't work shift work. They don't work weekends primarily, unless its overtime. I can't think of any incident in which the schools chief has ever been called out," she said.
The district has a long standing 20-mile policy for take-home cars. A 2012 audit found two members of the police department were taking cars home outside that range. The report concluded police policy and procedures related to take-home vehicles needed to be revised and expanded. That policy should be approved by the Board of Education.
SDUSD's former Chief, Don Braun responded in a memo that said "School Police Services agrees with this finding and will bring the department into compliance with the designated 20-mile radius, effective April 1, 2012.
It never happened. District spokesperson Jennifer Cornelius told Team 10 in an email: "We value the recommendations put forth in the 2012 audit. However, those recommendations were never put into place due to changes in personnel. We are currently reviewing AP 7190 to ensure that it meets the needs of our district."
Chief Littlejohn did not respond to our request for an interview. Cornelius said it would be inappropriate for him to talk about pending litigation.
"I think that the school police department needs to be scrutinized and reports provided to the public about how its operating and what it costs to operate the school police department," Smith said.