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Laguna Blanca Students Hear from Detective, Work on Their Own CSI

The school uses a 2013 burglary and the theft of more than $25,000 worth of computer equipment as a learning opportunity

Santa Barbara County sheriff’s Detective Joe Schmidt tells Laguna Blanca students how he helped solve a recent burglary at the school, using the incident as a learning opportunity.
Santa Barbara County sheriff’s Detective Joe Schmidt tells Laguna Blanca students how he helped solve a recent burglary at the school, using the incident as a learning opportunity.  (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

By Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper |

When Laguna Blanca School was broken into twice in one week last year, with more than $25,000 worth of computer equipment stolen, it left students in a state of shock.

"They were upset and I think they felt violated," said Carol Nordgaarden, who teaches English at the school. "I think they were insulted that someone would come on campus and take something that they depended on."

Last week, however, the school was able to use what happened at the school as a teaching moment when it hosted a presentation to two eighth-grade classes by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department detective who investigated the burglaries and helped arrest the men behind the crimes.

On Tuesday, Detective Joe Schmidt spoke with Nordgaarden's students about how he worked the case surrounding the burglaries, as well as the computer thefts that occurred at Vieja Valley School.

Andre Clayton and three other men were arrested in connection with the burglaries at the two local schools, and had been part of an operation that sought out schools with expensive computer equipment to burglarize and use the proceeds to finance the operations of the Dorner Blocc criminal street gang based out of Moreno Valley, Schmidt said.

"His main thing was to target schools and steal from them," he told the students.

Schmidt learned that the men had targeted more than 20 schools in San Diego County, and schools in Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties also had been victimized.

At 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 24, 2013, $10,000 worth of computer equipment was taken from Vieja Valley School, and two days later, surveillance footage captured two men getting out a similar vehicle at Laguna Blanca and prowling around campus, peering into classrooms.

Nothing was taken then, but the following night, 12 Sony laptops were stolen from Laguna Blanca, and the school was broken into again several days later on Jan. 29, when three iMacs were taken.

Video footage had been captured of a black Cadillac, and Laguna Blanca computer teacher Barbara Remick contacted Schmidt about footage the school had, which led the detective to a license plate number on a car belonging to Clayton.

It could have been someone else operating his vehicle, however, and Schmidt told the students detectives kept working to find more evidence.

Schmidt told the class how the evidence against Clayton came in piece by piece as law enforcement obtained warrants for his vehicle, home and computer.

Detectives discovered more than 40,000 pages of search history on his computer dealing with schools and computer acquisitions they had made.

They also found the addresses of victimized schools, including Vieja Valley's, on Clayton's cell phone.

With the help of a Drug Enforcement Administration analyst who was able to triangulate Clayton's location the night of the crime, Schmidt worked with multiple agencies including the FBI, and Riverside and San Diego county sheriff's departments to solve the case.

On May 5, 2013, Clayton was arrested during a traffic stop, and admitted to burglarizing Vieja Valley School. Three other men were arrested in connected with the Laguna Blanca burglaries.

Nordgaarden spearheaded the talk from Schmidt last week, as well as an impressive effort the day before that allowed students to conduct their own crime scene investigation, solving the murder of a fictional character, Blake Doplhman.

Students were given an elaborate script detailing the crime and characters, and the activity tied in multiple disciplines; English, history, math, science, and performing and visual arts teachers were all involved in the setup.

The teachers came in Sunday and set up the "crime scene," and "we had a lot of laughs," she said.

The students formed different detective agencies, and the exercise was tied into their reading of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Schmidt's talk also helped bring the reality of what happened on the campus last year full circle for the students.

"It was a blast," Nordgaarden said. "Hearing the story of something that happened on our campus will really make an impact on them."

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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