TEMECULA, CA – The parents of a 17-year-old special needs student arrested in an undercover police operation announced today they are suing the school district that authorized the operation. The student, 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, the student 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, the student was arrested in school in front of his classmates as part of a sting that nabbed 22 students in all, many of them children with special needs.
“Our son is permanently scarred from the abuse he suffered. Right now, our focus is on him, and our entire family,” commented Catherine and Doug Snodgrass, the boy’s parents, who are suing 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. They hope that this 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 cops seducing 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.”
The Snodgrass family has set up a legal fund to help end undercover drug stings in school. Go to: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-snodgrass-legal-fund
Contact: Darby Beck: 415.823.5496; Tony Newman: 646.335.5384 or Catherine and Doug Snodgrass: 951.643.4212