Fort Bend ISD police chief lays out lunch line counterfeit cash issues for school board

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Forcefully denying any wrongdoing or racial motivations, Fort Bend ISD's Police Chief David Rider told the district's school board, he has nothing to apologize for.

"Our system is working well," he said.

Reacting to an abc13 investigation of fake cash in school lines, Chief Rider laid out the district's history with criminal cases involving fake cash in schools' lunch lines.

An abc13 investigation found dozens of such forgery investigations in school districts around the Houston area. All of them fit a similar pattern. Students used an allegedly fake bill in a lunch line, it is caught when cafeteria staff use a detection pen on the bill and immediately turn it over to campus cops.

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On Monday night, board trustees asked if there is space to interject discretion by school administrators before police are called.

Fort Bend Superintendent Charles Dupre previously shot that idea down suggesting police are the experts not school staff.

Police Chief Rider on Monday told school board trustees, "We do not enjoy referring students to the district attorney when they break the law. Arrest is a last resort."

Tuesday's meeting was called according to Superintendent Dupre, because "the story has not been told completely."

Rider claimed abc13's investigation was inaccurate. We stand by our reporting.

Rider told the board, his department invested 30 cases of forgery since 2013. Of those, seven were forwarded to the district attorney. In some, a suspect is never identified. However whenever a suspect is, police reports identify the suspects as African American or Hispanic. Fort Bend ISD is not unique in that. No white students were identified as suspects in the police reports turned over to abc13 by three Houston-area school police departments (Fort Bend, Houston and Cy-Fair).

Advocates encouraged area schools to use more discretion in these cases.

Mani Nezami, an attorney who works at the Earl Carl Institute at Texas Southern University told abc13, "The implication is that this child is a criminal actor as soon as you involve the criminal justice system. I think this (should be handled) in the principal's office, where discipline used to be."

Nezami encouraged school leaders to talk with a student and parents before police are involved.

Demanding a racial breakdown on the forgery suspects Fort Bend ISD School Trustee Addie Heyliger asked Chief Rider, "How or when do we engage the police? Is there an opportunity to stop it before the (police) get involved?"

Chief Rider responded, "From our end of it, the skin color has nothing to do with it."

Rider acknowledged all seven of the suspects were students of color, but said policy matters are not his decision, "Just as police officers do not get involved in (educational issues), educators do not get involved in police matters."

Gail Stotler, Fort Bend ISD's Director of Child Nutrition told the board it may be a change worth considering, "It's something we should take into consideration."

In related news, the case against Alec Hunter, a Fort Bend Elkins High School student, is still working its way through court. Hunter says he found a $10 bill on the school floor and when he used it in the lunch line, a counterfeit detection pen showed it to be false. He was charged with a crime and appeared in court earlier this month. In his case, the Fort Bend superintendent told Hunter's parents and abc13, the boy's case was sent to the DA after his mother refused to allow her teenage son make a statement to a campus police officer.

Both prosecutors and Hunter's defense attorney say they are making progress towards resolving that case. Hunter is due back in court next week.
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