EASTSIDER - Our story involves Paul Cook, a local resident, who committed the (gasp) crime of allegedly doing a ‘rolling stop’, and was issued a traffic ticket by an overzealous School Police officer who appeared to be laying in wait for him in the dark. Like 8:40 pm on a school summer holiday.
Unfortunately for the Officer, Mr. Cook happens to be an attorney, and was irritated enough by the questionable police action to do something about the officer. Her name is Jill Marie Poe, and she was at the time the School Police Chief for Baldwin Park School District.
For context, Baldwin Park High, which was the school in question, has its challenges.
“Baldwin Park High is ranked 565th within California. Students have the opportunity to take Advanced Placement® coursework and exams. The AP® participation rate at Baldwin Park High is 39%. The total minority enrollment is 99%, and 100% of students are economically disadvantaged. Baldwin Park High is 1 of 3 high schools in the Baldwin Park Unified School District.”
Anyhow, Paul decided that there was something fishy about the entire stop, so he did some digging.
Hoo Boy! A blog called The Legal Lens outed her big time back in 2019
“Baldwin Park's Unified School Police Chief, Jill Marie Poe had a secret life, which she doesn't want you to know about. Besides being fired from the Los Angeles Police Department for being a sexual predator - she's also an ex-felon, who pled guilty to auto insurance fraud and filing a false police report. Now, she's around children from age 5 to 18. One has to wonder how this happened.
According to her felony complaint, case number YA043015, on January 7, 1999, Poe, a working Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer, was hurting for money. So she had the brilliant idea of defrauding State Farm Insurance of $10,731.30 by faking the theft of her Toyota Four Runner - which had the license plate "POZWAY". She broke glass by her driveway and filed a false police report to the Torrance Division of the LAPD alleging that someone stole her car. After some time, the insurance paid off over $3,000 on bank liens on the car, and Poe received $7,648.51 in cash and went on a trip to the lake with another woman officer named Anderson.”
Not only that, it turned out that no less than Bernard Parks had canned her as an LAPD Officer, for being a sexual predator! As reported in the blog,
“Also, during this time, Poe was also fired from the LAPD. Besides her felony charge, former LAPD Chief Bernard Parks filed 17 counts of personnel misconduct, which mainly centered on Poe's stalking and sexual harassing of another woman police officer. For instance, when she saw the other female officer in the locker room, Poe would grab her and state "You know when you wear those underwear, you know what you do to me. Don't be wearing those underwear around me. They look good." Officer Poe then made a "Hmmmm, Hmmm, Hmmm", remark. (See proof.) The Los Angeles Superior Court affirmed Parks' firing of her in Case No. BS064440. The victim obtained a restraining order against Poe at the victim's residence.”
In one of those ‘only in California’ moments, she was ultimately able to expunge her record under an unusual section of the California Penal Code. Actually, I am informed that the restoration was illegal, in that her felony auto insurance fraud did not qualify her for restoration. That’s beyond the scope of our tale, but material to her being able to get a job with the Shool District.
Anyhow, back in 2014, she was hired in a unanimous vote she was hired as the Police Chief for the Baldwin School District Police Department. Her cheerleader on the School Board was one Blanca Rubio, who later successfully ran for Assembly District 48, where she will term out in 2022. She is still in office, and you can find her Ballotpedia blurb here.
Anyhow, to the detriment of Ms Poe, Paul Cook detailed all the evidence and posted it on his own blog, The Legal Lens. It’s a good tale and worth a read.
Back to our story, the s**t hit the fan.
Angry parents called the school district, demanding answers of how someone like this was watching over their children. Cook received letters and phone calls and emails, from parents and employees and even former victims of Poe - thanking him for exposing the scandal. The District suspended Poe and hired the interim chief, Carl Miedema.
Jill Poe was quickly placed on administrative leave while the Board searched for a way out of the mess.
“The BPUSD's Board of Education met in closed session Tuesday to discuss the chief's position, according to the meeting agenda. A spokesperson for the superintendent said Poe was placed on administrative leave in October. She had served as the school district's police chief since 2014.
The leave was announced after a community activist and blogger posted documents that appeared to show Poe had once been convicted of a felony and had been fired from the Los Angeles Police Department.”
Cook sued the school district under a taxpayer standing action of illegally operating a school police department and not releasing records. The school moved to viciously fight back against Cook and his lawsuit, in which Cook estimates the litigation cost as over $250,000. Even though the police officer lied twice in open court, the trial court found him guilty of rolling the stop sign. Cook filed a number of appeals, and even obtained a state supreme court order on it. Nonetheless, Cook found the entire thing to be an incredible debacle on the part of the District.
Cook himself described the two years of court battles as “scorched earth litigation”, even as details came out that the District’s cops were making a bundle on ticky tack traffic citations outside of the school. One wonders why a school with problematic educational issues would be paying for a traffic scam.
Finally, in 2021, the Board took a 3-2 vote to disband the police department as part of a number of necessary budget cuts. Of course that’s one explanation :-). Here’s the self serving verbiage:
“The Baldwin Park Unified School District is disbanding its 36-year-old police department to save $1.3 million as part of sweeping budget cuts triggered by declining enrollment and revenue.
The Board of Education, on a 3-2 vote with board members Betsabel “Betsy” Lara and Diana Miranda voting no, approved a resolution during its Feb. 23 meeting to eliminate the police department. The agency is expected to be disbanded by July 1 or soon thereafter.
“With projected local fiscal constraints, it has been determined that it is no longer fiscally possible or financially sustainable to invest in the current structure of safety practices with a school police department within the district,” according to a board staff report.”
Cook’s takeaway from the whole experience was that the system simply did not work. He was presumed guilty by the Board, and in traffic court, or for that matter any administrative tribunal without a jury, good luck in trying to reverse an adverse decision.
It appears to this reporter that there was clear anti-Cook animous and expending a lot of public money in litigation to cover up the Districts actions. Instead of educating kids.
Eventually some of their “savings” went to Cook himself, who ultimately prevailed in court and settled for attorney fees and $50,000. Unlike the District, he was not interested in personal gain, and donated the $50,000 to a non-profit. And oh yes,the ticket was also dismissed.
Reached for comment, Paul Cook made the following statement:
“Cook graduated valedictorian from BPUSD and believes that the BPUSD is failing its students, who are always testing in the bottom quartile according to US News. Cook believes that the money spent on attorney's fees should be donated back to the District to go to the student's education.”
(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.)