Hunter or prey?

Matthew Harden tells the story about his dark days in DISD

At the store, Harden dropped his copy of Turbulence into the return slot and walked back to his 10-year-old black Mercedes. Harden recalls that, as he approached the car from the rear, he spotted a mysterious small box, as well as some wiring, under the car's frame. The box, no bigger than a videocassette, resembled the tracking devices DISD security staff used to monitor the district's fleet of maintenance vehicles.

Wondering who'd stuck it on his car, Harden showed the device to DeSoto police the next morning, then drove to work. When he got to his office at DISD headquarters, he also told then-DISD safety and security director C.W. Burruss about his discovery. Harden says he asked Burruss to stake out his car, just in case the individual who installed the device returned to check it.

That afternoon, Harden heard back from DeSoto police, who weren't sure how to proceed. So he telephoned a Dallas police investigator he knew, who instructed him to remove the tracker immediately and take it to police so they could investigate its origins. Harden took it to the station that very night.

Two days after he'd found the tracker, Harden decided to tell his boss about his troubling discovery. He asked Gonzalez's assistant for an appointment several times that morning, but couldn't get in. He finally finagled a meeting when he informed the assistant that a Dallas police investigator was in his office.

Minutes later, the superintendent's assistant called and told Harden to come by.

When he got there, Gonzalez had Bill Webster, the head of testing and evaluation services, in her office. Harden hesitated. He didn't want to start talking about the tracker in front of someone else. But Gonzalez encouraged him to go ahead and tell her whatever he'd come to say.

So he told her about the tracker. He remembers being caught off guard by her reaction.

"She said, 'Well, I told you some time ago that some strange things were going on here in this district,'" Harden recalls. "I was surprised, because I thought if a subordinate walks in [and tells you about a tracker], it would [immediately] pique your interest. The first thing you'd want to do is run out to see if there was one on your car."

Instead, Gonzalez asked Harden if he'd turned over the device to the security department at DISD. Harden replied that he'd passed it on to Dallas police. He recalls Gonzalez making a concerned expression that caught his attention.

"She had a strange look on her face," he says. "That was when I really began to suspect she had something to do with it."

As the entire city now knows, he was right.

Harden says he didn't hear from Gonzalez again the day he told her about the tracking device. "I received no communication back whatsoever," he recalls.

He was understandably shocked that evening when he turned on his television at home and saw Gonzalez and Hinkle telling reporters about new security concerns at DISD. Robert Hinkle, Gonzalez's publicity chief and right-hand man, appeared on camera talking about the five tracking devices he'd supposedly found on administrators' cars--as well as possible bugs in the superintendent's office.

"I'm thinking," Harden recalls, "What in the hell is this? No one has come in to me, and I was the one who reported it. It was obvious to me it was a cover-up."

Harden's hunch has been supported by the evidence his lawyers have gathered since then. The strongest corroboration to date is testimony from Larry Steiging, the private investigator whom Gonzalez hired to conduct regular sweeps of the superintendent's office for bugs.

Steiging, doing a 180-degree turn from the account he'd previously offered reporters, told Harden's lawyer in sworn testimony that Gonzalez's office had indeed asked him to put a tracker on Harden's car as well as assign personnel to monitor his whereabouts. Steiging testified that he'd kept the tracker on the car for about four days in mid-August, hoping to determine whether Harden was leaking information to the news media and, if so, just who was receiving that information.

Steiging stated that he was following the instructions he'd been given by Gonzalez's office. He did not say--as Gonzalez's attorney has claimed--that he was tracking Harden for the purposes of uncovering corruption.

At the request of Harden's lawyer, Steiging turned over his notes from an August 10 conversation he'd had with Gonzalez's assistant when he first got the assignment. The private investigator wrote down the names of the people Gonzalez wanted to know if Harden was meeting.

Steiging testified that Gonzalez wanted to know specifically whether Harden had met with an Observer reporter, board president Bill Keever, and newly elected trustee John Dodd, who had made some troubling inquiries into her proposed expansion of the administrative staff as well as the costs of her office renovations.

Steiging said he arranged to have the tracking stopped immediately when he learned from Gonzalez's office that the device had been discovered. He also complied, he testified, with a disturbing request from the superintendent's office. He agreed to back-date the $2,800 in invoices he'd planned to charge the district for the tracking work. Steiging testified that Gonzalez's assistant had asked him to do that so it wouldn't be obvious what the payments were for.

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