Slow reporting system allowed Alpine teacher to continue working with domestic violence charge

Local News
Slow reporting system allowed Alpine teacher to continue working with domestic violence charge

LEHI (ABC4 Utah) – Chelsea Cook is accused of shooting her ex-husbands girlfriend to death in front of her own two children on Sunday. A month prior, court records confirm that Cook was charged with three counts of domestic violence again in front of her children, but since that time Cook has continued to teach health at Skyridge High School in Lehi.

Two systems failed to alert the school to Cook’s October charges; the first is a policy of self-reporting. 

State School Board director of Professional Practices Ben Rasmussen explained, “If a teacher is arrested, cited or charged with particular offenses they have to contact their school district or charter school within 48 hours.” According the the school district, Cook did not report. 

The second system is fingerprinting. All teachers are fingerprinted and given a background check when they are licensed. The Bureau of Criminal Identification notifies the school board if there’s a match in the criminal database with a person in the public employee database. The district then takes over and often puts the individual on administrative leave for the duration of the investigation. 

In Cook’s case though, the district and the state board are confused about why her record wasn’t flagged back in October. 

Rasmussen said, “From what we’ve been told by BCI there hasn’t been a fingerprint done for the October domestic violence charges yet.”

David Stephenson is an administrator with the Alpine School District, he said, “There just seems to be a variance with arresting agencies on when those fingerprints are taken. 

Herriman City Police Lt. Cody Stromberg said Cook was fingerprinted when she was released on a misdemeanor citation. 

“The issue is that single print citations submitted to BCI take much longer to verify than the LiveScan machine which is what most jails use in booking and forwards information immediately to the BCI system,” said Stromberg. “The School District receives a notification from BCI when one of their employees is charged with a crime, but if that employee is not booked into jail, the notification is not automatically triggered as the physical copy of the citation is submitted to BCI for verification of the single fingerprint and subsequent criminal charges.”

The Director of the Bureau of Criminal Identification, Greg Willmore, said that his team looked for the citation after the charges came to light, and discovered it in a pile of citations in line to be entered manually. He said, “We didn’t know we had the citation because we had no electronic file with it.”

He further explained, “Right now we don’t go by severity of offense, we put the citation in the in the que, the pile of citations that need to be manually entered.” He said that judging by citations near Cook’s, it was submitted about November 1st. 

The BCI receives roughly 1,700 citations every month, and employs 6-12 technicians to sift through them all. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Utah VP Debate

More Utah Debate