Education Lab

Fresno Unified hired a PI to examine Slatic incident at Bullard. The report is now public

Fresno Unified has released a report by a private investigator into the Jan. 11 altercation on the Bullard High campus involving Trustee Terry Slatic and a student that was caught on video.

The report from Jeffrey Pierce of Oliver, Thomas & Pierce Investigations says that “it is more likely than not” that Slatic approached the student and grabbed his backpack as a result of profane and disrespectful comments the student made to Slatic and his district liaison, former Area 7 Trustee Michelle Asadoorian, but that the student made no threats to Slatic’s life until after Slatic approached him.

“The threatening words came as the two squared off with each other as if to fight, and not before Mr. Slatic grabbed the backpack,” the report says.

The report was released just before 5 p.m. Friday. It’s in response to public records requests from The Bee and includes witness statements from Slatic and a number of others whose names have been redacted, including the student seen in the video.

“The scope of the investigation was to determine the details of the incident, including the events that led Mr. Slatic approaching and physically engaging the student; whether the student threatened Mr. Slatic; and if so, when the threat occurred,” the report says.

The Fresno County District Attorney earlier this month declined to pursue charges.

Student’s perspective

The 15-year-old student, whose identity is protected by the district due to his age, was one of four students interviewed during the investigation. He said he was sitting by the snack bar waiting for Super Snack, a free after-school meal provided by the district, when he saw Slatic and Asadoorian walk by. He told the investigator that he did not know who either adult was.

“The two adults were talking to each other and [Redacted] heard one of them say, ‘Let’s go over here.’ [Redacted] said he was joking and trying to be funny when he said, ‘Yeah.” The woman then turned to him and said, ‘Excuse me? What?’” the report says. “[Redacted] said ‘Nothing.’ The woman then asked him what he was doing or who he was waiting for, or something to that effect. [Redacted replied by saying, ‘None of your damn business.’”

The boy told the investigator he tried to walk away when the adults approached him, but when Slatic kept following him, he told the adult, “Leave me (expletive) alone.”

“He said the man got mad and grabbed the backpack [redacted] was wearing. [Redacted] tried pushing the man away, but he was big and ‘did not go anywhere,’” the report says. The student then squared off with Slatic thinking that he was going to have to fight him, but did not want to because the adult was much bigger.

“After they squared off, [Redacted] said he told the man, ‘I’m going to beat your ass and shoot you.’ [Redacted] said he did not have a weapon and was not really intending to shoot the man, but he was scared,” the report says.

The report says that the student said Slatic told him “Alright, let’s go. You sure you want to go?” before Asadoorian stepped forward and said no, meaning that she did not want them to fight. The student says after he ran away, he did not tell anybody about the incident over the weekend and that he “kind of forgot about it.”

The student said he wasn’t injured and that he wasn’t sure if there were any witnesses, but there may have been someone in the snack bar at the time.

“He laughed and said, ‘I think I saw her in there, but I smoke too much weed,’” the report quotes the boy as saying.

Attorney Roger Bonakdar, who represents the 15-year-old, said Friday evening that he had not had a chance to review the report with his client yet, including the minor’s statements to the investigator.

“I think the report shows that Slatic was the aggressor, and that’s out of the bag now,” Bonakdar said.

Bonakdar said the district erred in having the minor student sit with an investigator and a campus resource officer without his guardians’ prior knowledge or consent. He does not know yet if the student’s family will pursue legal action.

Slatic’s perspective

Slatic’s statement says he and Asadoorian were on campus to observe the littering that took place after Super Snack.

Fresno Unified Area 7 trustee Terry Slatic watches proceedings at the FUSD school board meeting Wednesday night, Jan. 16, 2019 in Fresno. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA

However, the investigator notes that Slatic refused to answer any additional questions about the incident, other than to direct the investigator to refer to his statement to the campus resource officer on the day of the incident.

The investigator says he also tried to ask Slatic about statements he had made to GV Wire, including a claim Slatic had made that the student had reached into his backpack as Slatic closed the distance between them. Slatic told the investigator he stood by those comments, the report says. The student denied reaching into his backpack in his statement.

The report includes the investigator’s summary of what Slatic told to the campus resource officer, including that the student had threatened Slatic and Asadoorian as they were walking past him. Slatic also told the campus resource officer that he had grabbed the backpack because the student’s identification would be inside.

Slatic said Friday evening that he referred the investigator to his comments to the resource officer because four weeks had elapsed since the incident when he finally sat down with the investigator. The report says Slatic sat down with the investigator on Jan. 28 at 1 p.m.

“Any lawyer in the world would tell you that you might say, ‘small dog’ when you mean ‘puppy.’ That’s law school 101,” Slatic said. “But somehow ‘refer to the report’ became ‘Slatic refused to answer.’ ”

Slatic said his attorney, Charles Manock, is putting together a response to the report that will be released sometime in the next week. He said he does not intend to pursue charges against the district, and has a trustee meeting scheduled with Superintendent Bob Nelson on Monday, but does not intend to discuss the report.

Other witness statements

The investigator spoke to nine people including Slatic and the student. Three others were students.

A Bullard employee whose name and title have been redacted said he was called to the school office the day of the incident to pull surveillance footage from the snack bar security camera. As he was searching for it, Slatic walked into the employee’s office and they watched the video together.

According to the report, the employee told the investigator that as he watched the video, “he thought to himself, ‘oh, (expletive),’ because of the physical nature in which Mr. Slatic engaged the student.”

A witness who is an employee of the district but whose name has been redacted refused to answer the investigator’s questions, replying as Slatic did that the investigator should read the campus resource officer’s report. The report suggests that this witness was Asadoorian, as she reported that she had been “verbally assaulted” by the student and took a 30-day leave of absence due to the stress of the incident.

The report says she told the campus resource officer on the day of the incident that the student had mocked her as the two were walking past him, and that she tried to tell Slatic to “leave it alone.” She echoed Slatic’s statement that the student had threatened to kill him.

She added that she was thankful that Slatic was there, the report says.

Two snack bar workers were interviewed, but both said they could not hear anything that was happening outside of the snack bar.

Other student statements

Another student, a freshman at Bullard, told the investigator he saw only the end of the incident, in which an adult male grabbed a student’s backpack and caused it to come off. He said he did not hear an exchange. He said the student in the video walked past him after he ran from Slatic, telling him that the adult was “trippin’,” the report says.

A lingering question from the investigation seems to be whether the student made a rude gesture toward Slatic and Asadoorian as he was running away. The student witnesses say they did not see one, but Asadoorian told the campus resource officer that it happened.

Investigator’s analysis

Pierce concludes the report with facts he deems are not in dispute, including that Slatic and Asadoorian walked past the student, at which point he made a mocking comment to them, which caused them to turn. The student then used profanity and made another disrespectful comment, the report says.

After that, Slatic approached the student and more words were exchanged, including profanities from the student. Slatic then grabbed the student’s backpack, resulting in a struggle. After the backpack fell, the student threatened to beat and shoot Slatic.

“The most significant dispute and the primary fact that is at issue in this investigation is when the student threatened Mr. Slatic,” the report says, citing the student’s statement that he only uttered the threats after he and Slatic squared off, and Slatic’s account to a campus resource officer that the student had threatened him as the adults were walking past.

The investigator notes that the video released by the district does not appear to support Slatic’s account that the student had ever reached into his backpack.

In answering those questions, Pierce said he considered the credibility and plausibility of the statements, and that the student did not appear to have any motive to lie about when he threatened Mr. Slatic, since he readily admitted to the threat, the original mocking remark, the extreme profanity and the use of marijuana. On Slatic, Pierce’s opinion was different.

“The fact that Mr. Slatic failed to answer my questions about the incident must also be considered,” the report says. “It is appropriate to consider his lack of cooperation when assessing his credibility.”

Slatic said Friday he found the investigator’s assessment to be laughable.

Pierce’s final conclusion to the incident is that the threat most likely took place as the two squared off to fight and not before Slatic grabbed the backpack.

The district’s release of the report includes a statement of what was withheld from the report, including records that implicated staff members, records protected by federal law and records “where on balance the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record.”

“We note that this report is protected as confidential by the attorney-client privilege,” the statement says. “ Nonetheless, the District has decided to waive the privilege and produce the document in an effort to be fully transparent.”

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Aleksandra Appleton covers schools for the Fresno Bee. She grew up in Fresno before attending UC San Diego and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.