Rafu Staff Report
ALBANY — The suicide of James Izumizaki, 28, a popular teacher at Albany Middle School who was accused of lewd acts with a minor, has prompted widespread expressions of grief from his current and former students, questions about his arrest and dismissal, and statements from school and law enforcement officials, who said they took appropriate action.
Known as “Mr. I,” Izumizaki — an alumnus of the school — was also a basketball and volleyball coach for the Albany Cobras. He was arrested on Sept 26 and immediately placed on leave by the school. After being released on bail, he was found dead in his car in San Lorenzo on Oct. 1.
The contents of a note he left behind have not been released. The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office had not yet filed charges.
Students held a vigil and set up a shrine for Izumizaki on campus the following day. Classes were dismissed early. Many mourners said they did not believe the charges and could not believe he was gone.
At the same time, children’s advocates are saying that it is wrong to heap praise on a suspected molester and that Izumizaki’s accuser was being made to feel responsible for his death.
On Oct. 4, Albany Chief of Police Mike McQuiston issued the following statement, which said the investigation is ongoing:
“James Izumizaki’s arrest and subsequent suicide understandably upset many in our small community. It’s clear that people are hurt and confused by this tragic turn of events; the arrest of a popular educator and community member raises troubling questions, and his suicide leaves many questions unanswered.
“Because I believe in transparent and responsive policing, I would like to share what process was followed in arriving at the decision to arrest Mr. Izumizaki, and the laws from which that authority is derived.
“After receiving mandatory notice from the school district that allegations of impropriety had been made concerning Mr. Izumizaki’s relationship with a minor, the Albany Police began an investigation into that relationship. Following victim and witness interviews, police collected additional evidence that confirmed information from those interviews. A veteran police detective presented the evidence to a Superior Court judge in the form of a Declaration of Probable Cause.
“California Penal Code §817 describes this process: ‘… if, and only if, satisfied from the declaration that there exists probable cause that the offense described in the declaration has been committed and that the defendant described therein has committed the offense, shall issue a warrant of probable cause for the arrest of the defendant.’
“This step provided judicial scrutiny of the evidence. This independent, third-party review by a magistrate uninvolved with the investigation is a safeguard against police abuse of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.
“Once the judge issued the Warrant of Probable Cause for Arrest, officers were given the authority to make an arrest and search his home and vehicles. We are then required to file a document with the court clerk stating the date and time the warrant was served, the name of the person arrested, the location of the arrest and where the person is being held in jail. We are required to file a similar return with the court on the search warrants describing what we found and what we seized.
“Because Mr. Izumizaki died prior to being charged with a crime, there will be no public trial or court proceedings.
“Mr. Izumizaki was arrested without incident at his home when he answered our knock at his door on the morning of Sept. 26. The speed with which this arrest was made is a compliment to the lead investigator and is typical of cases where we want to act quickly to limit the destruction or concealment of evidence, and/or the compromise or concealment of witnesses.
“Part of our mission as police officers involves bringing perpetrators of crime to justice. Another part involves protecting the public and providing services and care for crime victims. Our investigation continues today and it will continue until all known leads are exhausted.
“We do this to ensure that no unknown victims remain who would likely need critical care or emotional support services. The reported victims in this matter are minors. The nature of the crimes under investigation and the manner in which this chain of events has unfolded (and continues to unfold) will manifest lifelong impacts on the victims.
“We will also continue to investigate to ensure that any digital record created during the commission of a crime with a juvenile does not live on into perpetuity (as 21st century technology now seems to allow).
“Lastly, if we should discover any information during our investigation that might help our school district colleagues better protect their students, we will share that information with them.
“In addition to the angst this matter has created in our community, investigations of this nature can be challenging and complex for the police to navigate. I am proud of the members of the Albany Police Department, particularly our investigative staff, who continue to diligently work this investigation on behalf of the victims.
“I am also grateful for, and would like to publicly thank, those victims and witnesses who have shown great courage and character by coming forward.
“As always, the police department remains committed to its mission of protecting and serving the community. Working together, we can ensure Albany will remain a safe place to live, work and play.”
Paul Black, president of the Albany Board of Education, defended the school district’s handling of Izumizaki’s case, saying, “When somebody pulls the fire alarm, you don’t go around and find out whether it’s a false alarm. You evacuate the building and then you investigate, and this is pretty much what we have to do.”
YouTube videos and a Facebook page dedicated to Izumizaki sprang up online after news of his death circulated. A few comments from one of the tribute videos:
“Mr. I inspired me to do many things including joining Leadership. I will always remember him, he was a nice, helpful guy.” — Boris Fedorov
“Mr. I — You will never be forgotten. We will always remember you as one of the nicest teachers/coaches/mentors we have ever known. RIP.” — Eva Piroth
“Mr. I was one of the best teachers I have ever had. I will always remember him, not only as a great teacher, coach and leader, but as a friend who was there when I needed him. Now we all have to be there for each other, and get through this together.” — Zelie Anner
“We’ll never know for sure what really happened in the past week, but no matter what you were always a great teacher and that can’t be overlooked.” — Lindsey S. Wiser
Comments posted on the Albany Patch website on Oct. 8 reflect differing viewpoints on what happened.
Ellen Esposito wrote, “OK, maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. But again I say, what about innocent until proven guilty, and also, did he lose all rights to privacy when he was accused? I don’t understand why his picture and name were all over the place, before anything was proven.”
Bruce Dixon responded, “Because the guy was a sexual predator that liked to prey (on) underage girls? Unlike you, Ellen, my sympathies are with the abused children who, after coming forward, see ignorant people defending their abusers. The guy gave up any right to privacy when he decided to abuse children and I commend him for saving society the costs of a trial.”