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Published in Print: August 7, 2002, as Accounts Differ in S.D. Suit Over Drug-Sniffing Dogs

Accounts Differ in S.D. Suit Over Drug-Sniffing Dogs

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The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against school and law- enforcement officials in Wagner, S.D., for using dogs to conduct two drug searches that the suit contends caused "terror" to children as young as age 6.

Filed July 25 in the U.S. District Court in Sioux Falls, S.D., the suit names 17 students who allegedly were terrorized by the searches.

It asks that the case be made a class action on behalf of all 800 students at the rural Wagner Community School, located near the Yankton Sioux Reservation, in the south- central part of the state. Forty percent of the students are Native American.

The suit alleges that police officers led a police dog through the classroom, and that on one occasion, the dog slipped its leash in a kindergarten class and chased pupils around the room. It says that some students had been traumatized by previous dog attacks, and that many children were crying and trembling during the searches this spring.

It also claims that school officials had insufficient suspicion to warrant the searches and seeks a ban on dog searches at the school

Allegations Disputed

Ken Cotton, the lawyer for the school board, gave a starkly different description of the searches, which he said took place on April 24 and May 6 at the Wagner district's K-12 school.

"When the searches were occurring—and I hesitate to call them searches—it was more like dogs passing through classrooms," Mr. Cotton said. And the K-2 pupils and their classrooms were not even searched, and neither dog escaped its leash or chased any children, he maintained.

According to Mr. Cotton, police brought the specially trained dogs to the school because of two complaints by parents that their children had seen students in possession of marijuana on the school playground, and because a survey of students had found that they perceived the school had a drug problem.

Vol. 21, Issue 43, Page 3

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