By Brian Charles, Staff Writer
PASADENA – A confidential school district memorandum calls into question the behavior of a football coach and a “belligerent” student who were involved in a scuffle that lead to the coach being placed on administrative leave.
The memo, written by Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent John Gundry, was obtained Wednesday by this newspaper. It not only purports to detail the actions of football coach Ken Howard, but outlines an apparent lack of oversight by Muir High School administrators.
Gundry’s memo also describes injuries suffered by a student in the Sept. 28 scuffle. The student’s name was not released, however Gundry notes the teen was taken to Huntington Memorial Hospital.
According to the confidential memo, Howard “grabbed (the student) by the neck and then took him into the hallway where he pushed him up against the lockers. The pictures (taken by PUSD employees) show a significant scratch on the student’s neck along with what appears to be a thumb print.”
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During an exchange between Howard and the student, “someone called coach Howard (a racial epithet referring to blacks),” Gundry’s memo also notes.
In a previous interview with this newspaper, Howard said he was asked by an administrator to search backpacks on campus for a knife. The coach said the confrontation began when he asked the student to comply with the search.
Gundry declined to respond to direct questioning on the issue, but did release a statement Wednesday.
“The investigation, which is nearly complete, will describe what occurred and determine whether there was any violation of PUSD board policy,” Gundry said. “When the investigation is complete, I will issue a complete statement about the findings and conclusions.”
PUSD board member Scott Phelps applauded Gundry’s promise to release the finding from the investigation and asked the community to remain patient.
“I hope that the public reserves judgement until the board makes a decision,” Phelps said.
According to the Gundry’s memo, administrators and security officers at Muir are trained and authorized to search students. Howard is no longer employed as a Muir security guard, and was not authorized to conduct searches.
PUSD officials declined to comment on why Howard was on campus during the school day, or why he was involved in what appeared to be disciplinary actions taken on the behalf of the school’s administration.
Howard has been described as fixture on the Muir campus, and his involvement in classroom search on Sept. 28 was not his first time he was pressed into that type of service this year, said Joe Hopkins, Howard’s attorney.
“He had been placed in that position that day and had been placed in that position a number of times,” Hopkins said.
Sources close to the investigation said Howard is “looked up to” by administrators and faculty at Muir, and was often asked to come on campus to serve in a disciplinary capacity.
Hopkins said Howard is being used as a patsy and the blame may actually lie with higher authorities on the Muir campus.
It’s unclear who hurled the racial epithet toward Howard, but the coach, according to Gundry’s memo, “went after him while (the student) was still seated in his chair. One of the other adults said that (the student) waved his arm in an odd way at coach Howard, but it isn’t clear what that means or whether coach Howard believed he was being threatened.”
Gundry’s memo also details the events leading up to the confrontation, and claims that Howard’s actions were not authorized by Park.
The PUSD memo outlines a series of events that begins with Howard was looking for hats that matched one worn by student carrying a knife in his backpack.
The student involved in the conflict with Howard was not carrying a bag, wasn’t wearing a hat and didn’t match the description of the teen being sought Muir administrators, Gundry wrote.
Gundry assertion contradicts earlier claims made by Howard, who said the search was authorized.
Officials said no weapons were recovered on campus. Police declined to take action against Howard following the incident.
Hopkins said despite Gundry’s claims, his client was searching the backpack of the student involved in the spat.
“They had been called to go through one classroom and they were in this classroom and the kid wouldn’t allow his backpack to be searched,” Hopkins said.
Additionally, Hopkins said his client’s actions were in line with the coach’s years of training – and were in line with the best practices in the field.
“If you analyze how it was handled, it couldn’t have been handled better,” Hopkins said.