The handwriting may be on the wall, but nobody agrees on who wrote it or who figured out who wrote it.
A recap: Harvey Austin Elementary School parent Timekia Jones said last fall that her signature was forged by Buffalo school administrators on key documents that fraudulently suggested parents were involved in school improvement planning.
The district responded that, according to a handwriting expert, Jones faked her own signatures.
The parent group representing Jones said that was crazy. Then, after speaking with the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Monday, they said the district never hired a handwriting expert.
District officials refused to comment – until Thursday when they said: Yes, we did!
Karl Kristoff, the education lawyer representing the Buffalo Public Schools, refuted allegations that the district failed to utilize a proper handwriting expert in its investigation of the Jones case.
Until now, the district has been reluctant to speak on the matter because of ongoing state and federal investigations and out of sensitivity to the district employees involved, Kristoff said. But in light of the latest public assertions by District Parent Coordinating Council President Samuel Radford III, “the district can no longer remain silent.”
He said the district hired a reputable private investigations firm – which he would not name – with a certified handwriting expert on staff who conducted a forensic analysis of the signatures in question.
His comments directly contradict Radford’s comments Monday. After speaking with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Radford said he was told the district employed a retired police officer/private investigator who has no background in handwriting analysis.
Kristoff said the district actually hired a private investigations firm headed by a retired agent with the U.S. Marshals Service. That firm keeps on staff a certified handwriting expert or “questioned documents examiner” who analyzed the signatures purported to belong to Jones.
“There is a scientific protocol that is followed in regard to these analyses,” said Kristoff, who reviewed the investigation findings on the district’s behalf. “The best analysis is based on original exemplars or samples, and in this case, original exemplars were used, and they were obtained from Ms. Jones personally.”
That included both left-handed and right-handed writing samples, he said.
The investigation ultimately concluded that Jones faked her own signature using a method called “disguised writing,” or a “deliberate attempt to alter one’s handwriting to prevent recognition.”
That determination was rejected by Jones and members of the District Parent Coordinating Council, both of whom stated that Harvey Austin Principal Brigette Gillespie personally admitted that Jones’ name was forged.
Jones also stated that she was undergoing a hospital procedure at the time one of documents was allegedly signed by her.
The News reached out to the school district Monday for a response to Radford’s statements about the lack of a handwriting expert, but a spokeswoman simply stated, “At no time did the district intend to discuss this matter publicly.”
Kristoff said he regrets that he wasn’t consulted by the district for a response at that time. He also said he would not share the name of the investigations firm or the handwriting expert involved in the case.
“To do so may interfere with the ongoing investigations being conducted both by federal and state authorities,” he said.
Meanwhile, Radford said what he told The News is what he heard firsthand from law enforcement officials.
“I’m just telling you what the U.S. attorney said, and further, I’m telling you what the FBI said,” he stated. “At the end of the day, how would we know one way or another? We took the district at their word when they said they had a handwriting expert. Why would we question their word unless we were given a reason to question it?”