The Justice Files: Family of murdered woman wants change in school policy

News

OREM, Utah (ABC4 News) – If you see something, say something.

It’s a popular phrase used by law enforcement and schools. They want the public to be additional eyes and ears when a possible crime is committed.

But for the family of Lisa Williams, they saw something and said something. Williams’ sister claimed it fell on deaf ears.

Williams was murdered in November of 2018. When asked if her murder could have been prevented, Bekah Williams became emotional.

“Yes,” she said.

Williams said the family has no intention of suing but want a change in school policy and an apology would be nice.

“Lisa brought magic into this world,” said her older sister Bekah Williams. “She made the world a more beautiful place.”

But that special magic disappeared one night in November of last year.
Williams was murdered in Herriman. Police said the shooting happened in front of the children of her boyfriend.

Her sister still remembers getting that knock on the door.

“When they told me it was Chelsea Cook that had shot her, I knew that woman was horrible and mean to my sister but I never thought that was a possibility,” said Williams.

Cook was the boyfriend’s ex-wife. She was eventually charged with William’s murder.

She was also a health teacher at Skyridge High School in the Alpine School District.

Williams said she wanted to protect her younger sister and took action. She said she warned the principal that Cook was using social media to harass and stalk her sister.

“(They were) completely dismissive,” said Williams. “Pretty much said when it comes down through the right chain of communication we will address it.”

But there were more red flags. Two months before the murder, Cook was charged with domestic violence in the presence of her children.

Under state policy, Cook needed to report it to the school. If it’s not done, an employee could be fired.

As a backup to self-reporting, the state requires police to forward fingerprints and the charges to the state’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI).

The state policy indicates the BCI will then alert the Board of Education about an employee.

“It works really well most of the time but in some situations like this one it fell through the cracks because it wasn’t reported in the right way,” said Brandon Merrill, attorney for the non-profit group
Utah Homicide Survivors.

But here’s the problem, Cook’s domestic violence charge was a misdemeanor. She was never fingerprinted and the charges filed in the justice court never reached the Alpine School District until after the murder.

A spokesperson for the district sent ABC4 an email response. This is part of that email: “Alpine School District is saddened by Ms. William’s death (although we didn’t know her)… While the District had and does have procedures and policies in place aimed at maintaining a safe school environment, those do not extend beyond that scope and in fairness to employee privacy rights, cannot extend beyond that scope.

In addition to notifications we receive from the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI) for criminal activity involving employees, the District also had in place a self-reporting policy. The specific self-reporting requirements (including what must be reported and when) are set out in Section 2.2 of Rules & Regulations 4033. Arrests are included. Failure to meet the self-reporting requirements is grounds for disciplinary action. The District’s required responses to such reports (which are established by state law and State Board of Education regulation) are outlined in Section 3. The purpose of the self-reporting requirement and of the background check and ongoing criminal history monitoring processes is to promote the safety and well-being of students, staff, and school visitors. Those policies and procedures are not meant to put the District in the role of policing employees’ off-school, non-work-related conduct. Finally, we can confirm that the Alpine School District did not receive any notification from the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification, nor from the named employee regarding criminal activity.

We are hopeful that the justice system will provide the closure
the Williams family is seeking.”

A state senator who is also an educator said laws do dictate what a school can and can’t do on issues like this.

“I think they possibly and informally can be more careful and keep their eyes open but to take action I think would violate that teacher’s rights,” said state senator Kathleen Riebe, D-Salt Lake County.

But the Williams’ family already knew what the school policy said. It’s hard for them to understand why schools can’t be more flexible.

“When legitimate concerns are raised, they need to be listened to even if they’re not from the person you want to hear from,” said Bekah Williams.

Senator Reibe said a quick fix may be found on the forms of the police reports. She said the forms could possibly have a small box to indicate if the accused is a school employee. The state senator said it would alert police that the case needs special attention and the BCI would be alerted.

Meanwhile, state representative Steve Handy R-Layton can’t believe that schools are being hamstrung.

“I don’t believe it,” he said. “If this is the case we better fix it. If there is a credible allegation a state law shouldn’t be blocked from taking action.”

He plans to investigate the issue further to see if the state policy and law need to be changed.

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