Cops Raid School Bus In Drug Sting Which Leaves Children In Tears

Louise Hoffman Broach, Wayuga Editor
Wednesday, April 22 2009

Post Herald
Apr. 24, 2009

RED CREEK - The superintendent of the Red Creek school district is investigating complaints by students, parents and the Civil Liberties Union of Central New York that a physical search of several students for drugs might have been too intrusive.

The state Education Department is also waiting for the school to complete an inquiry, said District Superintendent David Sholes.

“We’ve had drug overdoses in the last year and a half and arrests of some of the BOCES students relative to drugs,” Sholes said about what prompted the April 9 search. “Drugs were getting to BOCES and the obvious way they were getting there was on the BOCES bus. We were trying to address a major on-going problem. If we made some mistakes, we’re willing to correct them. We’re not going to cover it up.”

On April 9, the students who attend morning classes at the BOCES center got on their bus, expecting a typical ride to the Williamson campus. What happened next, according to some of them, was anything but typical.

State troopers got on the bus and told the students to put their hands on the seats in front of them, although some students said they were told to put their hands on the bus ceiling. They were then escorted from the bus in groups of two and taken to the main office. Additionally, two students were pulled from their classes. State Police Trooper Ben Kauder, the school’s resource officer, said some of the BOCES students were suspected of having drugs; the students who were called out of class had previous dealings with the school resource officer regarding contraband.

All of the students were subjected to a search. Principal Noel Patterson, Dean of Students Matthew Van Orman and Library Aide Laurie Howland conducted it in the presence of two male state troopers. During the search, neither Sholes nor Kauder were present, they said.

All of the students were asked to turn their pockets inside out, take off their socks and shoes and their belts. Some of the female students said they were asked to remove their tops and at least one of the girls, distressed at what Kauder called a “waistband search” in the presence of males, was in tears in the office, both he and Sholes acknowledged.

While Patterson told a parent he did not ask anyone to remove clothing, Kauder and Sholes said someone could have asked the girls to remove what could have been perceived as outer garments, such as a sweatshirt or a “hoodie.” Kauder said that was how he instructed the search should be conducted.

The girls, called the search embarrassing, invasive and humiliating. Some of them, as well as some of the boys, were angry, too, that it was assumed they would be carrying drugs although they had never been in trouble for such an activity.

Kauder and Sholes said some of the students who were searched were found to have contraband: medication outside of containers, cigarettes, other tobacco, rolling papers and in one instance, a “bowl” pipe that contained marijuana residue. Kauder said that student was issued a ticket for unlawful possession of marijuana.

“We did find contraband, but not to the extent we thought we would,” he said, but he noted that contraband was “absolutely not” found on the majority of the students who were searched.

State Police Lieutenant Mark Fleming said the state police did not conduct the search; they merely stood by to take custody of any drugs that were found. He said he did not have information about what Kauder might have told the district regarding the manner in which a search should be conducted.

The director of the Central New York Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is also investigating the incident, said the search may have violated the students’ Fourth Amendment rights. Barrie Gewanter said if what her office was told of the search is true, the incident “represents a grievous violation of the civil rights of the students.”

Sholes said Monday he was hoping to speak to all of the students involved in the searches. He was also speaking to those who conducted the searches. The superintendent said he was trying to find out why the two non-BOCES students were added to the search. They were the only students in their rooms to be searched at the time.

Kauder said all the of BOCES students on the bus were searched, even if they were not all suspected of having contraband, because the search could not be conducted selectively.

Matthew Fletcher, the district’s legal counsel, said the focus is on finding out what happened.

“There are a lot of actors involved and not all of them were accessible because of the (school spring break),” he said. “They are attempting to get the facts straight. There appear to be many different versions that are not consistent.”

Fletcher, who has spoken with Gewanter, also acknowledged there may have been issues with the way the search was done.

“We’ve had good conversations with the person from the New York Civil Liberties Union. I think the district is looking to get their house in order.”

Sholes said the district was looking into the matter “very seriously.

“We’re trying to get to the bottom of this,” he said. “If we made mistakes as a school, we want to correct them.”

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