Family’s Lawsuit Against School District Highlights Cruelty and Ineffectiveness of Undercover Narcotics Operations in Schools
TEMECULA, CA – Jesse Snodgrass, the teenage special needs student arrested in an undercover police operation will receive his high school diploma at the Chaparral High School graduation ceremony on Thursday, June 5, at 6:30 p.m.
The February 2014 Rolling Stone article, “The Entrapment of Jesse Snodgrass” details how Jesse, who suffers from a range of disabilities, was falsely befriended by a police officer who repeatedly asked the boy to provide him drugs. After more than three weeks, 60 text messages and repeated hounding by the officer, Jesse was able to buy half a joint from a homeless man he then gave to his new – and only – “friend,” who had given him twenty dollars weeks before. He did it once again before refusing to accommodate the officer, at which point the officer broke off all ties with the child. Shortly thereafter, Jesse was arrested at Chaparral High Schoolin front of his classmates as part of a sting that nabbed 22 students in all, many of them children with special needs.
Even though a criminal judge dismissed the charges against Jesse, the Temecula Valley Unified School District still attempted to expel him. Jesse’s family went to court to fight the expulsion attempt, and in March 2013, an administrative law judge halted the expulsion attempt, issuing a scathing ruling against the schooldistrict and ordering Jesse’s immediate return to Chaparral High School. In October 2013, Jesse filed a lawsuit against the Temecula Valley Unified School District, Director of Child Welfare and Attendance Michael Hubbard and Director of Special Education Kimberly Velez for negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and other charges.
“We are so proud of Jesse and have only recognized his endless possibilities, never his limitations”, commented Catherine and Doug Snodgrass, Jesse’s parents, who hope that Jesse’s suit will send a message to schools around the country that these raids will not be tolerated.
“What we have witnessed here is the polar opposite of good policing and an example of how the drug war skews the priorities of law enforcement officers. There was no crime here until the police coerced a special needs student into committing one. They didn’t lessen the amount of drugs available and they didn’t provide help to any students who may have had a legitimate problem. Instead, they diminished the life prospects of everyone they came into contact with. As a parent, as a retired police officer, as a human being, this outrages me,” remarked LAPD Deputy Chief Stephen Downing (Ret.), who now speaks on behalf of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of law enforcement officials opposed to the drug war.
The LAPD stopped using undercover stings in schools in 2005 after a review suggested police were targeting special needs children and that operations were ineffective at reducing the availability of drugs in schools. A Department of Justice study would later confirm the finding that such operations do little to affect the supply of drugs.
“Sending police and informants to entrap high-school students is sick,” said Tony Newman, director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance. “We see copsseducing 18-year-olds to fall in love with them or befriending lonely kids and then tricking them into getting them small amounts of marijuana so they can stick them with felonies. We often hear that we need to fight the drug war to protect the kids. As these despicable examples show, more often the drug war is ruining young people’s lives and doing way more harm than good.”
Building on the efforts of Jesse’s family, the Drug Policy Alliance has been working to call attention to the problem in Riverside County through community education. DPA also recently sent a letter to the superintendents of 20 Riverside County school districts urging them not to allow undercover law enforcement operations on their campuses. The letter noted that operations of this kind are not only ineffective in combating drug availability on campus, they also can inflict irreparable harm on young people struggling with the challenges of adolescence or special needs.