Some School District 65 officials who’ve reported receiving offensive messages over the past two years told police they didn’t consider those messages to be threats to their personal safety.
And police officers reviewing other reports concluded messages in those cases weren’t threatening either.
District 65 has been spending nearly $50,000 a month on security for Superintendent Devon Horton for most of the past 12 months.
Police reports, provided to Evanston Now in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, show that officials at Evanston/Skokie School District headquarters filed 11 such reports over the past two school years about a total of more than 40 disturbing emails, postcards and phone messages.
Many of those messages included racist comments, some cited a Bible verse referencing death. They frequently were received following national news stories on race-related issues in the district.
One from August 2020, for example, said, “Ok bigot. You. Devon (one can only guess your heritage) are the problem.”
The messages usually came over short bursts of time, instead of regularly. There were 10 over three days in August 2020 and 14 over 36 hours in November 2021. But there were months in a row where none came in.
Recipients over the two years included a variety of district employees – Horton, other administrators, school teachers, and staff members.
Also getting messages were some school board members and one board member’s employer.
Yet when the school board last summer chose to spend what has since turned into half-a-million dollars on security, it all went to provide a round-the-clock, $65-an-hour armed guard for Horton – who appears to have been the recipient of messages in less than half of the reports.
The security spending contract amendment was signed just days after Horton reported the rear passenger side window of his 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee was shattered while parked at the school administration building. Replacing the window, he told police, cost him $200.
Horton waited three days after discovering the broken window before he filed the police report.
Some of the messages no doubt seemed ominous. Horton told police that a voicemail message he received in July 2021 said, “If Martin Luther King was alive he would come out of his grave and slash your black ass.”
Horton stated publicly at a school board meeting he received “two voicemail messages containing racial slurs and threatening bodily harm.”
However, in many of the police reports, both District 65 officials and responding officers concluded that while messages may have been ugly and profane, they were not life-threatening.
Officer Loyce Spells, who took the report from Assistant Superintendent Adalib Khelgati about the August 2020 rash of 10 messages, wrote, “Khelghati mentioned that he was aware that the emails weren’t criminal in nature or threatening, but he desired to document the incident(s) and seek assistance from the detective bureau.”
About a month later, Deputy Superintendent LaTarsha Green received a postcard with a Bible verse relating to death, but the responding officer wrote, “I asked Green if she felt threatened, and she stated that she did not and simply wanted to make others in the district aware of the postcard.”
Police investigations did lead to the arrest of an Evanston man in November 2021 on a charge of harassment by electronic communication for emails that month.
That individual, believed to be a District 65 parent, allegedly sent 14 “offensive” messages over a 36-hour period to multiple email addresses at District 65.
The report does not specify who received the messages. But it appears that about a third of the two-year total of 40-plus messages are from the same person, months after the superintendent’s security deal went into effect.
Police Cmdr. Ryan Glew told Evanston Now that the arrest was due to the “volume of emails with intent to harass,” rather than any specific or overt threat, as well as a “post-Miranda statement” by the suspect.
That case is pending in court.
Last summer, police told Horton they had instituted a “special watch” at District 65 facilities “due to prior reports.”
So, police were keeping an eye on the school system offices at the same time the district was paying $65 an hour for an armed bodyguard to do the same thing.
The superintendent’s round-the-clock security contract expires on Thursday. School board Finance Chair Joey Hailpern told Evanston Now that there will be changes, which are being developed now.
But Hailpern also defended the half-million dollar expenditure as necessary under the circumstances.