Local News

Monday, Apr 14 2014 04:04 PM

DA still investigating animal cruelty case involving TUSD employee

A Tehachapi Unified School District employee who allegedly gassed three cats in a fabricated kill box was scheduled to be arraigned in Kern County Superior Court on Monday, but his appearance was apparently postponed.

According to Prosecutor Ron Taylor with the District Attorney's Office in Mojave, the DA is still investigating and reviewing the case, and no charges have yet been filed against school maintenance worker, Robert Hutton.

Hutton was arrested at 11:40 a.m. March 31 at Monroe High School in Tehachapi after he told a Kern County Animal Services officer that he had killed three cats.

Animal Control officials and the Kern County District Attorney’s Office refused to release details of Hutton’s arrest last week, saying only that he had been arrested on animal cruelty charges.

But repeated requests for information from The Bakersfield Californian prompted the Kern County Counsel’s office to release a brief statement about the circumstances of the arrest Friday.

Although Hutton’s name was on the court calendar Monday morning, when court recessed at noon he had still not been called.

On Friday, April 11, the County Counsel provided a statement: “Mr. Hutton was placed under arrest after informing an Animal Control officer that he had captured three cats in a trap, placed them each in a constructed chamber, and euthanized them using a carbon dioxide gas canister,” wrote Deputy County Counsel Devin Brown.

According to Sgt. Doug Wilson of the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, Hutton was being held on $15,000 bail and was released the same day he was arrested.

As reported last week, TUSD Board of Trustees President Mary Graham said Hutton had been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation by a representative from the Kern County Superintendent of Schools.

She said said that because the district’s Director of Maintenance and Operations — who supervises the employee who was arrested — is the husband of Superintendent of Schools Lisa Gilbert, the matter is being handled by the board rather than Gilbert.

“This decision was made at the Superintendent’s urging, and I appreciate her efforts to protect the fidelity and integrity of the investigation,” Graham said. “This is the type of proactive, responsible leadership we have come to expect of Ms. Gilbert.”

She added that the district has asked for assistance from the Kern County Superintendent of Schools office and that an administrator from that office who has previously worked as a school superintendent will conduct the investigation for the district.

“The Board took immediate steps to authorize a prompt investigation once we have clearance from law enforcement,” Graham said.

Many rumors have circulated since the arrest including allegations that other school district employees had knowledge of a practice of killing cats and other small animals on district property.

“Naturally, the district takes the allegations very seriously and is taking prompt action to review the situation,” Graham said. “At the same time, we do not want to jump to conclusions until we have had the opportunity to review all relevant information.”

JAMES BURGER of The Bakersfield Californian AND SCOTT CAMP and CLAUDIA ELLIOTT of the Tehachapi News contributed to this story.

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