Fontana school police officer placed on leave while district probes troubling allegations

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The Fontana Unified School District is investigating a school police detective who is up for a promotion despite an alleged history of violent and aberrant behavior, including punching or threatening students, slashing bicycle tires and carrying brass knuckles.

The allegations about Detective David Wibert were outlined in an April 8 letter to Superintendent Randal Bassett from an officer on the Fontana School Police force.

Fontana Unified School District Police Chief Lee Powell Jr. stands next to a patrol car at the Fontana School District Police Department in Fontana on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Officer Christian Shaw cited multiple incidents of alleged misconduct involving Wibert, the son of former Fontana City Councilwoman Lydia Salazar Wibert, who works as a liaison in the district’s child welfare attendance office.

“Officer Wibert has had countless claims of aggression and poor behavior filed against him,” Shaw said in his complaint.

The Fontana Unified School District is investigating complaints of assault and other acts of aggression involving a detective up for promotion. (File Photo)

Wibert’s recommendation for promotion to sergeant — made by his supervisor, Sgt. Dennis Barnett — “came as a shock to many involved in the department,” Shaw said.

Investigation launched

Bassett directed Shaw’s complaint to the district’s People Services Department, which has launched an administrative investigation.

Wibert, who has worked for Fontana Unified since January 2008, and earns more than $103,000 a year, was placed on paid administrative leave on Wednesday, April 13, pending the investigation, said Nicasio Salerno, interim associate superintendent for the People Services Department.

School district officials declined to comment further. On Friday, lawyers for the district instructed employees not to discuss the investigation.

Alleged favoritism

Wibert’s alleged transgressions, according to current and former officers who witnessed them, have spanned the last decade and were reported by the officers to their superiors. But in each case, nothing ever came of the complaints, which were either ignored or determined to be unfounded or not sustained due to insufficient evidence.

Complaining officers believe Wibert’s alleged conduct has been “swept under the rug” because of his family’s influence in the district — in addition to his mother, Wibert’s wife, two sisters and sister-in-law all work for Fontana Unified — as well as his personal friendship with Barnett, who sat on Wibert’s interview panel for the sergeant’s promotion, Shaw said in his complaint.

Reached by telephone, Barnett declined to comment for this story. Lydia Salazar Wibert did not respond to telephone calls to her office seeking comment.

“Accusations of favoritism have been rampant during Sergeant Barnett’s time as supervisor,” Shaw said in his complaint. “This includes hours-long lunch breaks with Wibert, cancellation of shifts to benefit Wibert’s personal schedule, and the lack of accountability Wibert is held to.”

Some officers employed by the department who have spoken out asked to not be named out of fear of retaliation. The Fontana School Police department has 13 sworn personnel, including police officers and ranking staff, Salerno said. The district has 44 schools.

Student assaulted

The most serious allegation against Wibert was that he punched a Summit High School student in the stomach more than a decade ago after he and Officer Glen Johnson brought the student to then-school resource officer Nicole Hauptmann’s office for a talk.

The student raised his hands over his head, and while Johnson was doing a pat-down search, Wibert punched him in the stomach, Hauptmann said.

“Wibert was running his mouth off at him, which was clearly upsetting the kid more,” Hauptmann said in a telephone interview. “They were going back and forth. It was agitating the kid more. So Wibert just sucker punched the kid in the stomach.”

While an internal affairs investigation was initiated, Wibert was not disciplined or placed on leave during the investigation, said Hauptmann, adding that both she and Johnson talked to the investigating officers and gave the same account of what occurred.

Delia Fant, who was principal of Summit High School at the time, said she remembered the incident well. The day it occurred, the student complained to counselor Doug Homme, who brought the boy into Fant’s office to discuss what happened.

“The student said that (Wibert) had punched him in the stomach while his hands were up,” Fant said. “My campus officer, Nicole Hauptmann, I trusted completely, and she said she was present and that she saw that happen.”

Fant said the student allegedly assaulted by Wibert was not a problem student.

In a call to school police that day, Fant warned that the agency “cannot have officers creating problems like this on campus, regardless of what was said. That’s no way to handle a student. There’s no need to get physical.”

She said she was never contacted by officers who conducted the investigation. “All I know is that (Wibert) continued to work,” Fant said.

Model officer

Police Chief Lee Powell Jr. dismisses the complaints against Wibert as petty jealousy, and considers him a model officer who goes above and beyond the call of duty.

“I know these officers do not like Dave Wibert, for whatever reason I don’t know,” Powell said in a telephone interview. “It’s a shame you’d affect someone’s livelihood because of your jealousy or insecurity. It’s just not right. These people, sitting back pouting — they haven’t taken the initiative to do anything. I know talent when I see it. I know good officers when I see them.”

Asked if he felt Wibert was a liability to the department, Powell said, “Absolutely not!” He credited Wibert for creating the district’s Youth Court and Pals programs, and described him as a model officer.

“Wibert is an outstanding officer, one of the few officers who takes the initiative,” Powell said. “He comes to work every day squared away. He’s pretty outspoken, and a lot of people don’t like that.”

Wibert did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Powell singled out one officer, Norma Bautista, who was competing with Wibert for the sergeant’s position and was passed over.

Powell said when he informed Bautista she was not getting the promotion and that there would be other opportunities, she replied, “I knew this was rigged,” before storming out of his office.

Reached by telephone, Bautista said she never said the promotion process was “rigged.”

“I said I wasn’t surprised. The second I found out Barnett was on the interview panel, I knew I didn’t stand a chance,” said Bautista, who is president of the Fontana School Police Officers Association.

She said she and Shaw are not the only officers who have complained about Wibert over the years. “Others have complained, and other officers are afraid to speak up,” Bautista said.

Other reported incidents

In his complaint letter, Shaw cited several other incidents over the years involving Wibert in which he faced no discipline.

Wibert, previously assigned to the Fontana Leadership Intervention Program, referred to as the FLIP program, bullied a student who was doing push-ups and threw a water bottle at him while he was running.

An officer who witnessed the incident, who asked to not be identified, said Wibert took issue with how the student was doing push-ups.

“He told the student, ‘If you keep looking forward, I’m going to kick you in the face,’ ” said the officer. “He mimicked like he was going to run and soccer kick the kid in the face.”

“Again, this was brought to the attention of his supervisors, again nothing was done,” Shaw said in his letter.

Wibert also has used a knife to slash the tires on bicycles belonging to students and transients, and was witnessed by officers carrying brass knuckles while on duty.

“When Wibert was confronted about the brass knuckles by fellow officers, Wibert began to wear a large ring on his finger in lieu of the brass knuckles and stated, ‘Just in case,’ ” Shaw said in his letter.

And on another occasion, Wibert, according to Shaw, took the helmet from a motorcycle officer’s bike while he was having lunch inside a restaurant with several other officers. It resulted in a panicky search for the officer’s helmet before it was revealed to be a prank, said an officer who witnessed the incident and helped canvass the area.

Again, Wibert’s superiors stood by his actions. “The next day Sergeant Barnett defended Wibert’s actions by stating it was a training exercise,” Shaw said in his letter.

Powell said he was “fully aware of the helmet situation,” and said Wibert and and another officer did it to teach the motorcycle officer a lesson.

“So they held onto the helmets. Yeah, maybe a little too long, but there was no misconduct there,” Powell said. “When this took place, everyone was in an uproar. Maybe they went too far with it.”

Promotion held up

Wibert’s promotion was thwarted during an April 6 board meeting, when member Adam Perez questioned the need for another sergeant on a force he already considers “top heavy.” He requested the matter be discussed further, and the board tabled it.

Perez said he was familiar with the history of complaints against Wibert, and has requested investigations himself at the urging of officers. But none has found him to be in violation of any policies or procedures or in breach of any standards of conduct.

Perez said he has spoken to two former presidents of the Fontana School Police Officers’ Association about Wibert’s reported lack of accountability for his alleged conduct. “They believe there’s favoritism,” Perez said.

He said Friday that Wibert’s recommended promotion will not be brought before the board again for consideration until the internal affairs investigation is completed.