UPDATED: Lancaster Online Investigates Raccoon Shooting

Lancaster Online Investigates Raccoon Shooting

Early Wednesday morning, I was contacted by a Lancaster Online staff reporter regarding Octorara’s recent raccoon incident. The news organization had received a call from a citizen, concerned about how the whole episode unfolded. Lancaster Online found the controversy to be newsworthy, and went to look deeper into what happened.

Read their article here: Octorara parents upset they weren’t told district security officer shot, killed raccoon on campus

Have you ever heard the saying, “It is not the crime, it is the coverup”? Well, I think that all perfectly encapsulates this situation. Another Board Member is quoted as saying, “I think that Dr. Newcome acted very appropriately in not notifying so as to keep it from becoming more of an issue than it really is.” This is exactly why open records and transparency laws exist. Government agencies should not withhold information because they fear a negative public reaction.

This week, I attended the CCIU Board of Directors Meeting. Talking about a different subject, an official from another district stated, “The best policy is to share bad news, and share it often.” The public does not trust officials when they believe they are not being completely upfront and straightforward. Making information open and easily accessible goes a long way. Democracy relies on a government that is transparent, participatory, and collaborative. Don’t you agree?

All that said, Lancaster Online interviewed Dr. Newcome, three Board Members, the security officer, Pete Mango (the local Signal 88 franchise owner), and the Chester County Health Department. There was an attempt to contact the West Fallowfield Police Department, but they could not be reached. As with other conversations, others seemed much more focused on talking about the “how”, as in how the raccoon was killed and if it was procedurally correct. Of course, my focus is on the “why”… as in, “Why were the parents not notified,” and “Why did the incident happen at all?”

Emerging from the reporting is a third variation of the incident. Initially, Board Directors were told about a raccoon seen “acting strangely” with no description of the animal behaving in a threatening manner. When the happening was brought up at a Committee Meeting, the story was that the raccoon had confronted a teacher, was acting aggressively, was foaming at the mouth, was hissing, did have matted fur, and was standing its ground. The column provided a third, less dramatic interpretation, and that “the raccoon came close to humans, possibly was foaming at the mouth and not walking at a normal gait.”

Moreover, apparently, Signal 88 took an incident with a gun far more seriously than District officials. Kudos to them. The article revealed that the security officer did file written reports with both West Fallowfield Police Department and Signal 88. Neither of these reports were provided to the Board. I have reached out to Dr. Newcome to find out if copies are on file with the District. If they are not, why not? A written report would have been much more valuable than receiving the information second hand from Dr. Newcome. Does that make sense to you?

Ultimately, from the District, we have the conflating of two completely separate issues. The first question is whether or not the security guard and Signal 88 did what they were asked in an appropriate and professional manner. From all accounts, they did. The security guard was assigned a task; he completed the task, and then properly and appropriately reported the use of a firearm. The second question is the real problem. Did the District intentionally decide not to reveal information for the purpose of avoiding controversy? I think how this has unfolded speaks for itself.

Updated 4/20/17 @ 5:18 p.m.

As noted in my original blog entry, I did ask for a copy of the security officer’s written report. I did receive that information, and it includes yet another version of the incident. Since this is a first-hand account, I am going to presume this is the most correct and accurate version of what really happened. However, I am going to have to speak with Dr. Newcome, and then possibly other Board Members, before considering publishing the report here. In the meantime, those interested can file a Right to Know request with the DIstirct.


14 thoughts on “UPDATED: Lancaster Online Investigates Raccoon Shooting

  1. Tim – you are flat out wrong. There’s been no attempt to hide information to mislead or avoid controversy. Your insinuation by asking the question is irresponsible.
    I’m spending no more time on this issue as you can read from my quote in the newspaper article.
    I told the reporter the vast majority of the board agrees with the way this incident was handled and it’s really just one person stirring the pot. It’s a shame that quote wasn’t included.

    • You are certainly entitled to your opinion. And, I think most people following this do realize that mine is not the position of the majority. However, I do believe that the timeline of events, and how information was handled, speaks for itself.

  2. Tim,
    Please dont speak on my behalf as yet again you have purposfully twisted words around from their true meaning to suit your needs. If any of your readers would like to speak to me direct about the situation they can feel free to contact me. Its a shame the reporter did not report all the discussion that was had with her during our phone call. That being said I hope to see you at the safety taskforce meeting tonight at 7pm Rm 102 in the Junior High. Tim, just FYI the meeting was advertised many times on FB.

  3. Thank you Tim for following up on this.
    I don’t find the actual event to be much of a scandal, and I don’t see it as the district necessarily intentionally covering anything up. What the situation does reveal to me is that many of the board members are out of touch with who their stakeholders are.

    Seems like Dr. Newcome was correct to ask the board before going public, given that there was no precedent for this situation. I think the officer probably did what was appropriate, based on the fact that there is no district policy on the boundaries within which he is to perform his duties. I do think that the scope of the security officer’s responsibilities should be well documented. I trust that a retired police officer with 20+ years experience in the field used proper judgment, but at the same time I feel that the boundaries of his role need to be defined. The recent United Airlines passenger fiasco shows us what happens when roles are not adequately defined with regards to law enforcement use of force authority.

    I think that an incident report should be filed and made public for any and all incidents when security is engaged for incidents relating to public/student/staff safety and security–especially when the use of force becomes necessary and MOST CERTAINLY when a firearm is discharged. WHY would anyone want to wait for rumors to spread? Rumors breed contempt and suspicion… I appreciate the quote Tim brought from the CCIU. Precisely on point.

    The larger issue I saw as I sat in the audience at the Monday meeting of the Board was that several of the board members fail to understand who their stakeholders are: Parents, their children, and taxpayers. As members of the public were speaking, I winced as I watched some board members rolling their eyes and staring at their phones & mobile devices. I was horrified at other board members nonverbal responses to Tim. Whether you like Tim or agree with him or not, he represents many of your stakeholders. Please hear him out with the intent to understand–not to be defensive or on the attack.

    Also, consider suspending the board meeting rules at the very end of the meeting and having an open discussion with the public. Don’t hide behind your parliamentary rules in order to avoid a debate/discussion.

    And finally, in Ms. Bowman’s closing comments at the end of the meeting she presented a ‘politician’ ultimatum: Go along with maximum tax increases and no budget cuts, or our children pay the price with diminished quality of education. Seems to me that, by not even considering building consolidation, some board members are more interested in protecting their legacy (buildings), than educating children.

    The financial situation we find our district in SUCKS… I don’t think any board member would disagree with that. A few people on the board are responsible for the position we are in, ignoring the economic signs that were evident just before the new buildings went up and voting to proceed anyway. To those board members I say: Your legacy is now that seniors are being forced out of their homes; Even though homes are selling elsewhere houses aren’t selling here because prospective home owners are looking elsewhere once they see how high the taxes are; homeowners who want to sell are having to rent to low income renters because they can’t afford to take a loss. A $300 tax increase this year doesn’t mean much to some of us (board members included), but as the increases add up over the years they are CRUSHING this community. The board laments that enrollment is down–yet they don’t seem to acknowledge that enrollment is down in part BECAUSE OF THEIR ACTIONS.

    Again, consider who your stakeholders are. If you can’t think outside the box and consider cutting ‘sacred cows’, then you aren’t working for the children, parents, and taxpayers–you are working against them.

      • David,

        It happens all the time, even with the most benign and uncontroversial comments. I wish I could explain it.

        Once again, thank you for your comments and observations.

    • I want the committee meetings put on the Cube, otherwise I will be at every committee meeting with my camera to ensure we have transparency. This is why they rate me thumbs down, and for me the more thumbs down I get the better!

  4. So. There was more information available, but no one chose to share it. Unbelievable.
    I hope this is the end of the whole sorry mess. Someone should file an FOIA and publish it.
    I have no more words. I am very disappointed.

    • That is what I am recommending for people who want to know. I didn’t even know this existed before today. I will say, if it wasn’t for the last 3 weeks, the report is rather unremarkable… for the most part. However, the report was written by the only person with first-hand knowledge of the entire incident, from the very beginning to the end. His description is what actually happened.

  5. Trolls to be sure, David. Rather vile, cretinous creatures totally lacking any courage in their own convictions (if in fact any convictions they have), but just smugly sitting back, disengaged, wrapped in their cloak of anonymity, and feebly, unproductively, trying to shut down earnest dialogue while they keep their own heads buried in the sand. Ignore them. Dismiss them. They are some lower form of life, at least intelligent life, not worth anyone’s time or consideration.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. My message to the trolls is to take your thumbs and plant them squarely and firmly in the seat from where almost all of your thinking emanates (assuming we can consider the act of clicking-on the ‘thumbs-down’ button actual thinking). Or alternatively, just suck on your thumbs, hold your blankies close, rock back and forth, and keep telling yourselves that everything will be okay if only enough of us wish it so. Really, you trolls are a pathetic, pitiful lot. Embarrassingly so. Empty suits is too kind an appellation to apply to you gutless wonders.

    Frankly, my dears, you make me sick.

    C. Vail

    P.S. And I’ll say another thing I previously said: a certain member of the board whose name I won’t mention but whose initials are B.N. may or may not be behind this recent step-up in the trolling of Tim Alexander’s blog. The unnamed person may be orchestrating things, may be the puppet-master behind the trolling. Or not. But I’ll bet dollars to donuts that the unnamed person is at the very least the inspirational cause of this sudden and dramatic uptick in malign trolling of Tim Alexander’s blog.

    P.P.S. And now I had better get to bed so as to conserve my energy. Because if past is prologue, if history is a guide, tomorrow I should expect some sort of feeble and intellectually vapid blow-back from the unnamed person whose initials are B.N. He’ll try to find some hole in something I said here and then throw it back in my face. Failing that he will simply take umbrage at me naming without really naming him. Failing that he might accuse me of being a chronic complainer about the stalwart souls on the board who, like him, are as pure as the driven snow when it comes to their always good, however often misguided, best intentions. Or he might just call me crazy. Or choose not to respond and say nothing at all. He should opt to stay quiet. He has no fact-based affirmative arguments to make. And I would hope that by now he realizes that when it comes to battle by rhetoric he is outgunned. (No shame in that.) He should stick to his knitting in the closed Facebook chatroom, forum, or whatever that private place is where trolls come together to reinforce their own know-nothingness. Have at me mystery, unnamed person. But take time, consider, prepare, and choose your words carefully. Better yet shut up, ignore me and dismiss me, and stay holed-up in that closed cave of your own making.

    • Well, I know it is frustrating when even an innocuous comment gets downvoted, but that is what trolls do. They just want to poke, poke, poke. If you let it get to you, they feel they accomplished something. I may just turn off the feature.

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