Back in July of 2015, a man named Mike Gurrieri filed a lawsuit against the San Diego Unified School District’s superintendent for allegedly ordering edits to his criminal investigation to cover up for the accused principal. Mr. Gurrieri was assigned by the San Diego Unified School District as an internal investigator to investigate a sexual assault that allegedly occurred at Green Elementary School in San Carlos, California. Parents had filed a claim that the school’s principal, Bruce Ferguson, took little to no action and did not even report it to the police. Mr. Gurrieri claims he spent months digging to find that several allegations by different students have been mishandled. Mr. Gurrieri was then allegedly fired for not complying with the cover-up.
Court documents filed by district attorneys state that Gurrieri was incapable of conducting an adequate investigation and had asked school-district officials to fire him because the job was too difficult for him. The San Diego School District hired attorneys to defend their case against Gurrieri’s lawsuit back in September. The district claims that Gurrieri’s report was based on “hearsay,” rumors, and gossip. The differing stories mean that there is a long legal battle ahead, as both parties engage in a dance of “he said, she said.”
What is Hearsay?
Hearsay is a relevant issue in criminal trials. It may be generally defined as an out-of-court statement offered to prove the truth of whatever it asserts. As a result, hearsay evidence is often inadmissible at trial. See the California Rules of Evidence. Thus, the original speaker, or eyewitness, must be present at the trial and giving the statement under oath (ie. “I saw him pull out the gun”). The reasoning behind this rule is that hearsay is generally not reliable, unless the speaker is available to be cross-examined by the opposing side.
Hearsay must be a statement, meaning it must be an oral assertion, written statement, or nonverbal conduct.
While there is a general prohibition to allowing hearsay into the evidence of a trial (or lawsuit), the California Evidence Code sets forth a long list of exceptions to the hearsay rule. Some include:
- A declarant’s spontaneous or excited utterances. Startling statements are considered reliable because they were made stress before s/he had a chance to fabricate;
- The Declarant’s existing mental state or physical condition;
- Business and public records;
- Former testimony given under oath;
- A witness’s past recorded (written) recollection which may be read into evidence;
- Dying declarations;
- Certain statements by children (particularly in sexual assault cases).