A former teacher's aide who was busted at the border with more than $500,000 worth of cocaine and methamphetamine was sentenced Friday to 37 months in federal prison and three years supervised release.
After Garrett Anthony Clifton was arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border south of San Diego in April 2013, he continued working at the San Diego Unified School District for nearly a year until NBC7 Investigates asked the school district about his legal situation. It turned out officials with the SDUSD had no idea about Clifton’s arrest.
The case has prompted local school officials and congressional leaders to call for new legislation requiring that school districts be informed when an employee is arrested for a federal crime.
Prosecutors say Clifton showed little emotion but looked "a little shaky" as he appeared in Judge Janis Sammartino's federal courtroom Friday morning.
Clifton also told the court he just fathered a baby, according to a prosecutor. Court records show he was arrested in April 2013 with 9.9 kilos of meth and 8 kilograms of coke in the car he was driving at the border.
He did not return requests for comment and neither did his attorney.
About the drugs in his car, Clifton told court he thought it was "just marijuana," according to a federal prosecutor.
Between April 2013 and February 2014, Clifton attended nearly a dozen court appearances, all the while maintaining employment and working with children at the SDUSD.
He was on his way to work at Mann Middle School when NBC7 Investigates asked the school district about his arrest.
Federal law enforcement agencies do not report such arrests to schools or other public agencies.
State law requires law enforcement agencies to provide official information about an arrest to schools and other entities classified under the law as "care-providing."
The state education code requires an employee to be placed on paid administrative leave when they are arrested for a crime that would disqualify them from working with children, such as a drug bust.
But there's no similar federal law or mechanism for notifying schools of federal arrests.
Because of what NBC7 Investigates uncovered, school board President Kevin Beiser is asking the federal government to take a closer look at its policies.
"What I do know is that when we have employees working with children and they're arrested with $500,000 worth of narcotics, we need to know about that, so that we can make sure that we're doing everything we can to keep our kids safe," Beiser said.
Both U.S. Representatives Scott Peters and Susan Davis also said the policy needed to change.
"This is just preposterous," said Peters. "It really goes to Washington's ... sometimes they are tone deaf to community needs. So, as a parent and as a taxpayer, I think it's just outrageous."
Davis said the school district should have been notified.
"It's appropriate for federal law enforcement to notify school officials in cases like this," Davis said via an email statement. "I will be following up with the federal agencies involved regarding the policy in place, if it should have been applied here and if there are legislative remedies needed."
NBC7 Investigates received the following statement from Homeland Security Investigations, the agency responsible for investigating Clifton's arrest:
“In criminal cases where a defendant is found to have regular contact with children, a variety of factors impact Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) decision as to whether notification of the subject’s employer or other associated parties is warranted or appropriate. Factors include: is there evidence the defendant has previously harmed children; are there indications the defendant is engaged in ongoing abuse of children; and finally, does the subject appear to pose an imminent threat to the safety of the children with whom he or she interacts. HSI is reviewing the matter to determine if appropriate procedures were followed."