'Let the drama unfold:' Video shows Highlands Ranch HS drug search before coach's resignation

Posted at 5:14 PM, Oct 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-19 00:28:31-04

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. -- Newly-released dashboard camera video shows a sheriff's deputy speculating about the reason Highlands Ranch High School's now-former football coach reportedly moved a player's car off campus before a drug search in August.

"Let the drama begin!" a deputy is heard saying during a phone call on the video obtained by Denver7 Investigates. "It's the coach who takes away one car. It's his star football player."

"He moves it to try and keep him out of trouble. Well, guess what, it keeps him out of trouble, but guess who's in trouble now," the deputy is heard saying after his police dog circled the athlete's car, parked outside the home of former football coach Mark Robinson. "I think he's going to find himself out of a job, or at least suspended for a while."

The sheriff’s office says the video shows the drug-sniffing dog "alerting" after smelling the vehicle, but law enforcement did not search inside the car to follow up.

"In my opinion that head coach did not serve that school, did not serve that child, did not serve the community well when he did that. Because it just didn't look good," Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said.

No one was charged in connection with the incident but Robinson resigned from Highlands Ranch High School the next day -- just one week before the team's first football game.

Now for the first time school and district administrators are answering questions about why they did not initially tell parents about the sheriff's investigation when Robinson resigned, choosing instead to tell the public Robinson resigned to take another job.

Parents in the dark

Robinson's resignation was initially announced in the form of a bulletin from the coach to parents four days after he stepped down in which he stated, "This past year I have gone through a lot of things and have noticed I was slipping in my duties as a head coach."

At the same time, the school's athletic director Preston Davis said in an interview with CHSAA, the state's high school athletic association, Robinson left for "a career opportunity with a life-long friend that he just couldn't pass up."

It wasn't until nearly two weeks later, after multiple media reports surfaced about the coach moving the car, that Highlands Ranch principal Chris Page wrote a letter to parents acknowledging the "law enforcement incident."

"On the front end, we started releasing information out to our families immediately when the event happened," Page explained in an interview with Denver7 Investigates. "When we concluded the investigation and more requests came in for more information, we shared more information with those families."

Page said the sheriff's office did not ask the school to withhold information about the incident when communicating with parents, but he made a judgment call to hold back those details due to the school's ongoing investigation.

The Douglas County school district's interim superintendent, Erin Kane, said the principal had to be careful about what he told parents because of privacy laws with regard to personnel matters.

"I do think that that you have a principal who's trying to do to make that balance between... what he can say and what he can't say in terms of personnel issues and employment law," Kane said. "As questions came up, he absolutely answered those questions."

The school's athletic director declined to answer questions about his comments to CHSAA. But the sheriff said school officials should have been more forthcoming.

"I think if you are going to run a program and you are going to run the program honestly, you should tell the folks this is what happened," Spurlock said.

"I believe it was appropriate for us to share the information that we did at the times that we did because the investigation was still ongoing at that moment when we're sharing that information, and we wanted to make sure that we did not violate any employment law in the process," Page said. 

No search warrant obtained

No charges were filed against the coach or the athlete.

The sheriff said once the vehicle left school property, his deputies would need to ask a judge for a search warrant to search the car but decided against it.

"There was much discussion amongst the supervision at the school at that time. Does the suspiciousness of the teacher taking the car off the lot allow us to take that next step?" Spurlock said. "We didn't think it rose to that occasion."

Spurlock said his office investigated whether Robinson obstructed government operations by moving the vehicle but investigators could not find probable cause to support a criminal case.

"Clearly the coach, in our opinion, acted inappropriately," Spurlock said. "Given the circumstances, I think whatever decision was made for him to leave abruptly, that was in the best interest of Douglas County schools."