Questions Arise over MAD Academy Investigation
Neither the Santa Barbara Police Department nor the District
Attorney’s office is investigating parent and student allegations of wrongdoing
at the MAD (Multimedia Arts & Design) Academy — nor has either agency
received a private investigator’s report commissioned by the school district on
the matter, law enforcement officials said.
“I was contacted by the school district’s attorney,”
District Attorney Joyce Dudley told Newsmakers. “They wanted to turn their
investigation over to SBPD. I referred them to SBPD.”
At the police department, Public Information Officer Anthony
Wagner said, “We are aware that the school district has conducted an internal
“However,” Wagner added, “at this point they have not
forwarded the matter to us for criminal review.”
Both comments came in response to a carefully worded statement that Superintendent Cary Matsuoka released late Friday about the ongoing controversy surrounding the acclaimed Multimedia Arts & Design Academy at Santa Barbara High School. Here is a link to a primer on the issue.
Matsuoka’s statement confirmed for the first time that the
district in January hired a private investigator who examined accusations
lodged against Pablo Sweeney, who resigned in March as operations director of
the MAD Academy, and Dan Williams, director of the program, who was placed on
paid administrative leave in April, but allowed to return to campus not long
after, accompanied by the announcement that he is retiring as of June 30.
In his statement, the superintendent’s first on the affair,
Matsuoka said that the school district’s “investigation is continuing and
we have reported our activities to the Santa Barbara Police Department and the
District Attorney and offered to work with them to the fullest
However, the law enforcement agencies have received no
formal complaint and therefore to date have nothing to investigate.
The district — through Griffith & Thornburgh, its
private law firm — informed the SBPD and county DA, a few hours before Matsuoka’s
Friday statement, that it had conducted an internal personnel investigation; it
did not provide the work product of the investigation itself, however.
An attorney for Griffith & Thornburgh declined to
The law enforcement comments are significant for two
• As a practical
matter, they provide clarity in delineating authoritatively the status of
inquiries into the academy controversy, which has grown more acrimonious amid
an atmosphere of official secrecy, social media gossip, and whispers within the
• As a political
matter, the disclosure that the district informed law enforcement of the
existence of its private investigation — but not of its content — suggests that
school officials believe that allegations put forth by parents do not rise to
the level of potential criminal conduct.
The latter could fuel frustrations in advance of next
Tuesday’s school board meeting, at a time when irate parents have grown
increasingly vocal about their belief that the district has failed to take
their concerns seriously.
Specifically, some parents believe that Matsuoka, Williams
and other school district professionals did not fulfill their legal obligations
in their role of what is known in the state Penal Code as a Mandated
Under the law, public school officials are required to
inform law enforcement or a child welfare agency whenever there is a
“reasonable suspicion” that a child has been subject to possible abuse or
neglect. Some parents have charged that Sweeney’s alleged behavior on campus
while employed by a nonprofit group that raises money for the academy rose to
the “reasonable suspicion” level.
The five-member school board is to convene Tuesday at 5 p.m. A copy of the agenda is available here.
This story first appeared in Newsmakers with Jerry Roberts on May 26, 2019.