Sheriff disputes school district assertion


The Columbia school district recently sent a second document to the community, following up on its letter from February addressing negative claims about the district. 

This document contains seven new claims that have come up recently, such as the Parkview Elementary roof replacement and laws governing how the school district handles homeless and unaccompanied youth. 

The item that has drawn the most attention, however, is the seventh one. 

According to the district, in 2016 the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department was conducting an investigation regarding student information provided to school officials.

In the course of that investigation, the MCSD interviewed district administrators. 

“The superintendent and/or administrators were not under investigation, but cooperated with the deputies to answer questions,” the document, which is available on the district’s website, states. “After reviewing the police report that was shared with the administration a year later, the report contained information that was not an accurate account of the interviews.”

Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing took exception to that, posting a Facebook response on April 1 after he was contacted by a concerned resident about the statement. 

“I first want to say I find this statement truly alarming,” Rohlfing wrote. “The sheriff’s department was tasked with an investigation that we completed thoroughly without bias. When we complete investigations we report facts. What we do not report on (are) emotions, friendships or biases. I stand by my investigators’ reports.”

In an interview with the Republic-Times, Rohlfing said the investigation in question was regarding former Columbia Police Chief Joe Edwards. 

Edwards resigned from that position in May 2016 after being put on paid administrative as he was being investigated for conduct during a matter involving his family. 

Rohlfing confirmed that school district officials were not under investigation, though he said the MCSD investigation “revealed some things that shouldn’t have been done.”

Rohlfing declined to go into more detail on the matter, except for one comment. 

“The superintendent’s office in Columbia went above and beyond to have an allegiance to prior chief of police Joe Edwards, even though he was involved in misconduct and reports of criminal activity,” Rohlfing said. 

Columbia Superintendent Gina Segobiano, who wrote the document, said it is crucial for the school district and law enforcement to have a partnership. 

“I, as well as the school district, have the utmost respect for all law enforcement agencies, particularly the sheriff and his department, as well as Columbia’s police chief and the Columbia Police Department,” she said. “The school district and the police department have always maintained a very strong partnership, regardless of who serves as police chief. It is imperative and expected that the school district maintains very positive relations with law enforcement agencies, for our priority is working closely together to ensure the safety and security for our students and staff.”  

Rohlfing said what concerned him most about the letter, which he called “unprofessional,” was its timing, as the district released it March 29 – five days before an election.

“What’s alarming to me is you can only call this political with the school board election,” Rohlfing said. “It’s been a spirited, hot topic up there.”

Rohlfing said he did not know what the district, specifically, thought was incorrect in his department’s report, which he confirmed it received a year later after it submitted a Freedom of Information Act request.

Segobiano provided more detail into that matter. 

“The statement that has evoked attention was not intended to insinuate any negativity toward the sheriff or his department, but to simply note that some discrepancies on the report existed per the recollection of those involved,” she said. “Unfortunately, the interviews were not recorded.”

She also said the investigation has “no relevance to the education of our students or school district.”  

No matter the specifics, Rohlfing said the information in the report is correct. 

“Politicians have put things out there to where there’s places people don’t trust the police,” he said. “Now we don’t have that here, but I can’t let someone put something like that out there when it’s not factual. When it comes to questioning the integrity of our personnel, I won’t allow that.”

“We can all improve on what we do, including me,” Rohlfing added. “And if you find someone that’s always telling people that they’re perfect, that should raise some questions.”

According to Rohlfing, the school district could not know the facts of the interviews, as Segobiano was not present for them. 

“She didn’t sit in on the interviews,” Rohlfing, who also did not sit in on the interviews, said. “She doesn’t know.”

The two MCSD investigators on the case had over 60 years of experience, according to Rohlfing. 

He went on to say the MCSD has no officers who live in Columbia or have children in the district, so his response is not politically motivated.

“It does not concern us who is on the Columbia School Board,” he said. 

Both the school district and Rohlfing invited citizens to contact them if they have any questions or would like more information.

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