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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Public Schools’ new security chief resigns after abuse claims surface

Santos G. Picacio, Jr., 46, poses last week as the new Director of Safety, Risk Management and Transportation at Spokane Public Schools. However, he resigned Wednesday after school officials learned of documents signed by a Spokane County judge who ruled last November that Picacio cannot visit his son until he receives counseling for being a domestic violence perpetrator and  to deal with long-term mental health and substance abuse. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The man recently hired to oversee all security issues for more than 30,000 students who attend Spokane Public Schools resigned Wednesday after he was confronted with allegations made last year in court records that he abused his wife and suffers from long-term mental health and substance abuse issues.

Santos G. Picacio Jr., 46, resigned after school officials had confirmed the authenticity of divorce records and asked him about allegations that he twice threatened to kill his wife; that he admitted to having sexual contact with a pair of 19-year-old twins in 2014 who were the daughters of church friends; and that he has tried to take his own life at least three times as he battles post-traumatic stress syndrome following two tours of service in Iraq as part of the U.S. Army.

Spokane Public Schools spokesman Brian Coddington confirmed the resignation when replying to questions about Picacio posed earlier Wednesday by The Spokesman-Review.

“An anonymous source shared documents with us on Monday that pertained to serious allegations,” Coddington said. “We began taking steps to determine the authenticity of the documents and to inquire about the allegations contained in those documents.”

Those steps were ongoing when Picacio was called in to answer to those allegations. Asked if school officials gave Picacio a chance to resign or be fired, Coddington said they never got to that point. “He offered his resignation.”

The court records in question were filed last year, some eight months before the district hired Picacio earlier this month as the district’s director of safety, risk management and transportation. Picacio did not return a call made Wednesday morning to his office.

As part of the divorce decree, Superior Court Judge Tony Hazel wrote, “Santos Picacio Jr. has a history of domestic violence,” and that Santos “has a long-term emotional problem that gets in the way of his ability to parent. The husband has a long-term substance abuse issue.”

Picacio denied in his own court records that he put a gun to his wife’s head in 2005 and again threatened to kill her by putting a knife to her throat in 2007.

“I can assure you at NO time did I EVER hold a knife OR a gun to my wife,” Picacio wrote in February 2018. “I am ashamed to admit that I wanted to end my life due to all the feelings and pressure that I had experienced. Therapy has helped dramatically with all of that and I have NO reason to want to end my life at all.”

In his role as director of safety, Picacio replaced former Spokane County Sheriff Mark Sterk. In that role, Picacio was expected to provide a recommendation regarding the findings from a school-safety report issued last spring by Safe Havens International, which advocates arming campus resource officers in schools.

As for the sexual contact with the young women, his ex-wife, Paula Picacio, wrote that the twins told her that Santos Picacio had “touched both of them inappropriately” in October of 2014.

“He is prone to sudden and angry outbursts and brutality,” she wrote in February 2018. “He continues to ruminate about homicide and suicide. His molestation of these teenage twins and his complete lack of remorse has made it clear to me that I can no longer be involved with him at any level.”

In response, Santos Picacio acknowledged having sexual contact with the twins when he was 41 and married.

“They were both 19 years of age at the time of that incident and that was consensual activity between both parties,” he wrote in court records. “That was by far the worst and hurtful thing that I have done and I wish that I could take all of it back and it not have happened.”

Picacio was hired by the district about six months after Coddington acknowledged in an interview on Feb. 1 that Spokane Public Schools officials did not conduct a Google search before it hired former Spokane County Sheriff’s deputy Shawn Audie as a school resource officer.

On Wednesday, Coddington said a background check was done prior to Picacio’s hire. But that search did not look for civil cases.

“This type of proceeding is not screened,” he said. “The documents came from a family court hearing during a divorce proceedings.”

Background searches became an issue after Ferris High School students took cellphone images of Audie placing his forearm on the neck of an African American student during a disturbance in the school.

As of earlier this year, the district was still investigating Audie’s hiring process to determine why it hired him in September 2018 after he had been the subject of federal civil suits alleging excessive force.

Coddington said district officials were still reviewing the matter to see if changes are needed.

“We will be continuing to review to see if there is anything we can learn from this,” he said. “It could be reviewing civil matters … for our background investigations going forward.”

‘History of domestic violence’

According to court records filed by Paula Picacio, who also did not immediately respond to a request to be interviewed Wednesday, the couple started dating in 2002.

“Our relationship was always overshadowed by the respondent’s sudden outbursts and unpredictable anger,” she wrote. “He has engaged in explosive anger and brutality towards me and others including our son.”

She wrote in 2018 that Santos Picacio returned home in 2005 from a deployment in Iraq while the couple was living in Lacey, Washington.

“He had been drinking and he took out his grandfather’s gun and held it to my head and threatened to kill me,” Paula Picacio wrote. “He doesn’t remember any of it. I had to tell him about it the next morning.”

She said her husband later gave the gun to her brother-in-law “so that there wouldn’t be ‘another incident’ like before,” she wrote.

Paula Picacio wrote about another incident in January 2007 that occurred after Santos Picacio had consumed several liters of beer and he began yelling at her.

“He grabbed a big kitchen knife and started slicing the countertop towards me,” Paula Picacio wrote. “He then held the knife at my throat and threatened to kill me again. He said if I was ever to tell anyone then he would kill me.”

She said her husband then ran upstairs and ingested an entire bottle of hydrocodone. “He then told me he took them all and was going to die,” she wrote. “Threats of suicide or homicide accompanied his highly aggressive and assaultive conduct.”

Things later improved after the couple began attending church and Santos Picacio began attending Alcoholics Anonymous sessions and seeing a different counselor for anger management issues, she wrote.

It’s then, in 2014, that the couple began a church group with another couple who were the parents of twin daughters. The Picacios moved to Spokane in October 2014, but Santos Picacio returned later that month to clear out their house located on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Santos Picacio had the interaction with the 19-year-old twins during that trip.

The couple had a sit down on May 29, 2015, to talk about their marriage after the twins told Paula about the earlier incident involving her husband.

“It was clear that Santos continues to suffer from deep and pervasive personality disorders,” Paula Picacio wrote.

Since that time and before the divorce, the couple tried again to reconcile, she wrote.

“He yells a lot at (the son) and me stating that the only way we hear him is when he yells or threatens us,” she wrote in February 2018. “It is no longer safe for me or our son to have any contact with Santos until he receives proper mental health treatment.”

According to a court document filed in October 2018, she wrote that Santos Picacio had not had any contact with their son since May 2018.

For his part, Santos Picacio said he had begun seeing a counselor twice a month “and the sessions have been very positive.

“I am concerned about the incidents that Ms. Picacio is allegedly saying happened: the one with the knife and the gun,” he wrote. “I would NEVER have done either of those and remember both of those night(s) very clearly. My question to this court is if those incidents did happen, why did not Ms. Picacio call the police in BOTH cases?”

Judge Hazel appeared to have taken Paula Picacio at her word. He ruled that Santos Picacio “engaged in a history of domestic violence” and had “long-term” psychological and substance-abuse issues.

In addition to ordering counseling for being a domestic violence perpetrator, substance abuse and mental health issues, Hazel wrote that Santos Picacio was barred from consuming any alcohol or drugs “within 4 hours prior to, or during any visitation.”

A call to Picacio’s divorce attorney, Matthew Dudley, was not immediately returned Wednesday.