He was forced out as Richmond Schools security director. A student was killed before a replacement was hired.

Former RPS Director of Safety and Security Maurice Tovar and CBS 6 Investigative Reporter Tyler Layne
Posted at 5:04 PM, Feb 21, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-21 23:46:59-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- On the day that gun violence erupted outside of a Richmond high school graduation, the school district did not have a director of safety and security.

And in the many weeks of graduation planning leading up to the commencement ceremony, there was no director of safety and security, who would have been responsible for managing and overseeing that process.


Richmond Public Schools (RPS) Superintendent Jason Kamras forced his former Director of Safety and Security Maurice Tovar to resign. Tovar said he believed the Richmond School Board pressured Kamras to do it.

Tovar is now shedding light on his experience and departure from RPS, a year after he reluctantly handed over his resignation.

Tovar had 25 years of law enforcement experience before taking the position with RPS in 2018.

Immediately, he said, there was a lot of work to do.

"Updating the standard operating procedure for the safety and security folks hadn't been done in years. A lot of our crisis planning was outdated. It was on paper; we couldn't find it. It was on a sheet in a shoe box," Tovar said.

Former RPS Director of Safety and Security Maurice Tovar and CBS 6 Investigative Reporter Tyler Layne
Former RPS Director of Safety and Security Maurice Tovar and CBS 6 Investigative Reporter Tyler Layne

Much of his responsibilities centered around supervising security personnel in the buildings, overseeing drills and emergency planning, collaborating with police, and managing state-mandated safety requirements.

But responding to school incidents also kept Tovar and his team busy.

"I used to joke that every day I come to work, and I have a list of things I'm going to do and usually write it down on a 3x5 card. And there was rarely a day where I got through that list because there was something that popped off that you had to go take care of," Tovar said. "There was always something. There was always a fire to put out."

Behaviors of a Safety Concern

RPS experienced more than 5,100 "behaviors of a safety concern" last school year alone, according to state data.

That includes incidents such as possessing weapons or drugs at school, fights, and bullying.

The school system also experienced more than 1,900 "behaviors that endanger self or others. "

That includes more serious incidents such as assaults, gang-related behavior, and threats of violence.

Tovar described the tempo of the job as "relentless."

"We were reactive a lot of the time. Something would happen, and then we would go back and fix it. We didn't put a lot of forethought into trying to predict what was coming up next," Tovar said.

As a director, Tovar said he typically reported to a chief in Superintendent Kamras' cabinet.

But for more than a year, between mid-2021 and late 2022, the chief position over Tovar's role was vacant.

The vacancy was the result of the school board initially not approving Kamras hiring a chief wellness officer.

So, Tovar reported either to former Chief of Staff Michelle Hudacsko or directly to Kamras.

He never interacted with the school board – until February 6, 2023, when he was involved in a presentation to the board regarding district safety protocols.

"I've never been treated so unprofessional in my life," Tovar told CBS 6 in an interview one year following the meeting.

School board members specifically asked to speak with Tovar, but Tovar said they were asking questions about topics that were not under his control.

They asked him about restorative justice practices, which he said fell under the Department of Culture and Climate, not Safety and Security.

Therefore, he said he wasn't the right person to answer those questions, but board members still expressed disappointment in him.

"My concern is he is the director of safety and security and cannot speak to the processes that are happening in these schools when our young people are in crisis," former 9th district board member Nicole Jones said after asking about restorative justice practices.

"I see too many beautiful people in really bad situations, and I'm wondering what we're doing to prevent it?" Richmond School Board Chair Stephanie Rizzi asked Tovar after stating RPS needed to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.

"As far as prevention, we have Gaggle, which monitors communications with RPS," Tovar replied.

"That still seems punitive to me," Rizzi said, cutting him off.

Dr. Shonda Harris-Muhammed then said she felt the team "wasn't prepared."

"I so wanted to come down to that podium and answer those questions for you, but that's not my job," Harris-Muhammed told Tovar. "I am thoroughly disappointed. I've been disappointed since 7:15 because this here foolishness has to stop."

Tovar said he felt targeted by their public criticisms.

The school board has been blamed for allegedly running off RPS staff in the past.

When former Chief of Staff Michelle Hudacsko resigned last year, she accused some board members of being "hostile," "mean-spirited," "dismantling progress," and "setting up the administration to fail."

In a recent investigation report, the district's current Chief of Secondary Education Soloman Jefferson said the last school year was "disastrous" due to a "vacuum of leadership" and "so many vacancies in key levels."

When asked what he attributed the vacancies to, Jefferson answered, "the school board."

"I would probably be embarrassed that in an open forum like that, to show the world that that's how you treat people," Tovar said.

A few days after the February 6, 2023 board meeting, Tovar said Superintendent Kamras asked to meet with him.

WATCH: Maurice Tovar discusses the moment he was asked to resign

I love you, but I need your resignation.

"We sat down and he started by saying, 'I love you.' He said it like three times. And then he's like, 'but I need your resignation. I need it by the end of the day,'" Tovar said. "And he was like, 'I know things are crazy. It's an upside-down world. The board doesn't like you, and I don't know why they don't like you.'"

Tovar said he had never been disciplined before and Kamras had not previously raised any concerns about his performance before requesting his resignation.

Tovar submitted his resignation, which initially was supposed to take effect March 1, 2023, but his last day was pushed into April.

Kamras originally told the school board he would immediately appoint an interim safety director, but that didn't happen.

Tovar said he knew of individuals who were offered the position but did not want to accept after seeing what happened to him.

The position would sit vacant for months, including throughout the graduation planning process.

Though Tovar would have been in charge of security planning for those events, the duties were designated to the district's emergency manager, according to an investigation report.

The position wouldn't be filled until June 7, 2023.

June 6: A Shooting at Graduation

On June 6, 2023, a deadly shooting occurred outside the Altria Theater moments after Huguenot High School's graduation ceremony ended, killing graduate Shawn Jackson and his stepfather and injuring many others.

A third-party investigation into the circumstances leading up to the shooting conducted by the law firm Sands Anderson revealed Richmond Public Schools staff allowed Jackson at graduation without "any consideration of safety concerns."

Jackson was a homebound student, not permitted at school-sponsored events, due to "threats of neighborhood violence."

The student's mother gave multiple warnings to school staff including that students had "shot up" their home and "literally tried to kill him."

Despite knowing safety issues, a school counselor "squeezed" Jackson into graduation the day of the ceremony, failed to complete a threat assessment, and failed to escalate intelligence to security personnel.

"I think it goes to a culture of RPS and safety. There was a lot of things that were missed. We see all the mishaps that have happened at RPS last several years," Tovar said.

“In your opinion, do you think that this is something that could have been prevented?” investigative reporter Tyler Layne asked Tovar.

“I think it could have been easily prevented if he's not supposed to be at graduation or on school property or at school functions. He shouldn't have been there. Pretty simple," Tovar said. "And then if someone decides that he is going to be there, then we're going to come up with a plan. We're going to meet him prior to coming [to the theater.] We're going to get him on stage, we're going to get him off the stage. He's going to be escorted out of the area. We're going to have our police friends involved, and we're going to work collaboratively with first responders."

It's an opinion that was shared by security personnel who worked the event.

"We could have removed him [through] another exit so that he wasn't seen by the entire crowd," a care and safety associate said, according to investigation interview transcripts.

"Why didn't we know that he was going to be there, period? If he can't be at school for whatever reason, then you decide to let him walk?" said the district's emergency manager, who called the incident an "intelligence failure."

Tovar said the day of the event, a security director would have also been in charge of planning who manned magnetometers, making sure they were all in place and working, scheduling breaks and timelines for personnel at the metal detectors, determining a leader to "call the shots" in the event of a failure, and so forth.

For example, Tovar recalled that before a graduation at the Diamond in 2022, a care and safety associate stopped a guest who had a gun from entering the venue after a care and safety associate picked up the weapon through a metal detector.

Sands Anderson's report found that RPS security personnel were not permitted to use magnetometers and conduct searches at the Altria graduation because the Altria Theater and RMC assumed exclusive control of those functions.

The report determined it was inconclusive as to whether all the metal detectors stationed at the graduation even worked. It was also inconclusive as to whether all students and guests were wanded by metal detectors before entering the building. Altria and RMC declined to participate in Sands Anderson's investigation.

According to the agreement between Altria and RPS, security planning was in place for "situations" that occurred inside the venue, but not outside the venue.

"As I look at events around Richmond, we're starting to see things happen on the curtilage, so it's something that's going to have to be addressed going forward," Tovar said.

After years of overseeing how RPS handles safety operations, Tovar believes the issues exposed through the report were part of a deeper, systematic problem within the division.

The report revealed employees worked in silos, were unaware of certain procedures and processes, and didn't report information up the ladder.

Even Superintendent Kamras himself admitted he hadn't looked at the district's homebound manual until after the shooting and was unsure of which staff received threat assessment training.

WATCH: Maurice Tovar discusses culture problems within Richmond Schools leadership

It's just how RPS culture is.

"There was questions about training and threat assessments. There were manuals, information that was not available. There were good chunks of people working in silos," Tovar said.

He added, “And I don't think those only occurred during graduation. It's just how RPS culture is."

Similar sentiments have been echoed by school board members in light of the investigation

"I think that there are a lot of operational gaps. I think that there are really honestly cases where employees are not sure exactly how to report things, who to report them to, what the actual chain of command is," School Board Chair Stephanie Rizzi said following the release of the report.

"This is not the first time that from my school board seat, and it's an honor to serve, that I have talked about the dysfunctionality in our operations," Board member Shonda Harris-Muhammed said. "Houston, we got a problem."

RPS has heard it from outside entities too.

In January 2023, the Virginia Department of Education's Office of School Quality told Rizzi that RPS was "deficient in its creation and implementation of effective systems and organizational structures" and had a "lack of standardized protocols."

A 2018 audit from the Council of Great City Schools found RPS lacked in "efficiency," "effectiveness," "internal communication," and "clear lines of authority and accountability." And even five years ago, the same theme appeared in the audit – "information islands and operational silos."

“A lot of these issues are under the same superintendent, the same school board. So now we're going to ask them to get us out of this? Might be a tall order," Tovar said. "They're going to have to look at themselves. Maybe their leadership is lacking. Maybe they're not giving clear direction... But that's going to take some humility, and having dealt one day with the board, I'm not sure humility is in their heart."

Tovar believes poor decision-making on the ground level derives from poor leadership at the top between the superintendent and the school board, who he said have created a climate of no accountability.

No Accountability, No Action

He referenced how the school board, during its first meeting after the public release of the investigation report, took no action to address any issues highlighted in the report.

“I was really disheartened to see that after the report came out that at the school board's first meeting, they really came up with -- they were empty. There's nothing. There's no leadership, like, what are you doing? I was hoping to see some sort of management shuffle where security information fell out under one person. I was hoping to see, instead of just saying that security is our number one priority, really buckling down. We are going to train our folks on filling in the blanks X, Y, and Z and this is our timeline to get this done."


In meetings prior, the board had approved new policies and procedures to tighten oversight of student participation in graduations. In a February 2024 meeting, the administration said it was currently undergoing extensive threat assessment training for employees.

"Richmond Public Schools tout safety as your number one priority, and I question that," Tovar said.

CBS 6 has requested an interview with Superintendent Kamras multiple times to discuss the graduation shooting report. He has declined.

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