Student Well-Being

Drug Sweep Sparks Lawsuits, Investigations

By Marianne D. Hurst — January 07, 2004 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A drug sweep at a South Carolina high school in November has touched off a controversy that persists two months later.

So far, the action has sparked two lawsuits and prompted state and federal investigations. It has drawn sharp criticism from civil rights advocates and raised nationwide concerns about the role of police in schools.

The incident in the 2,700-student Stratford High School in Goose Creek, S.C., attracted widespread attention in the news media, thanks largely to a video record of the Nov. 5 sweep. The videotape shows officers charging into a hallway, guns drawn, yelling, and subjecting more than 100 students, most of them African-American, to searches for drugs. Some students were put in handcuffs.

School officials said no drugs were found.

The more recent of the lawsuits was filed in federal district court in Charleston, S.C., on Dec. 15 by the New York City-based national American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing 20 students and their parents. That lawsuit contends that school officials and police responded improperly to a school drug problem by using excessive force and violating students’ civil liberties. Parents of several students involved in the incident had filed a separate lawsuit Dec. 5 in the same court.

“All the students were treated like suspects,” said Graham Boyd, the director of the ACLU’s drug-policy litigation project. “The school had no reason to think they had done anything wrong. There’s nothing that allows you to use a school like a crack house.”

Previous Activity Cited

One grainy, blue-green video captures the scene.

It shows a 30- to 40-second rush as police officers—some with guns drawn, others pointing with their arms and shouting commands—secure the hallway. Students drop to their knees; some have their faces down on the floor, while others are wedged against their lockers.

Police pull the students’ backpacks out into the middle of the hall, and then a police dog, bouncing against his handler’s side, walks down the line of bags.

The school’s principal, George McCrackin, was present during the operation, which was conducted at his request. However, a school district official said the principal did not know police would draw their weapons during the sweep.

The dramatic video has shaped perceptions that obscure the facts of the situation, according to Pam Bailey, a spokeswoman for the 26,800-student Berkeley County, S.C., school system, which includes Stratford High.

“There has been so much emotion and perception in this incident that we have to let the facts rather than perception stand,” she said.

Ms. Bailey said that students and teachers had previously reported witnessing drug activity in that particular area of the school, and that police had been monitoring the school’s 70 surveillance video cameras for several days.

According to Ms. Bailey, a team of 14 local police officers conducted the drug sweep in an attempt to catch students suspected of dealing drugs.

A majority of the school’s students had yet to arrive, and the early-morning search, which began at 6:45 a.m. and lasted approximately 30 minutes, was over before classes began.

Critics of the sweep said that the incident was a clear case of racial profiling. About 20 percent of the school’s population is African-American, but nearly 70 percent of the students in the hallway during the drug sweep were African-American.

However, Ms. Bailey insisted that police were only targeting students involved in drug activity and that no racial groups were singled out.

The City of Goose Creek Police Department, which is named in the ACLU lawsuit, would not comment on the incident. Civil liberties advocates argue that there was little, if any, evidence of drug activity in this case. A majority of the students in the hallway, they note, were innocent bystanders.

“The extent of the [drug] problem is questionable,” said Darrel Rogers, the national director of Students for Sensible Drug Policies, a Washington-based organization. “In this particular case, the evidence is thin. This was suspicion, not fact. [But] anyone that happened to be in that hallway was arrested, essentially.”

Ms. Bailey acknowledged that most of the students were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“We don’t want the methods that evolved from this incident to be used again,” she said.

What Is Reasonable?

Rick Harvell, the executive director of the National Association of School Safety and Law Enforcement Officers, based in St. Louis, and a former director of security for the 5,000-student Oswego, N.Y., public schools, said that “the question is did [police] violate anyone’s civil rights?”

That question is being debated in many circles.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation recently joined the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division in an investigation to determine whether officials with the City of Goose Creek Police Department stepped over the line.

FBI officials were unavailable for comment. An official from the state law-enforcement division would not comment on the case.

Perry Zirkel, a law and education professor at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., said that the primary issue in the Stratford case would be whether the use of guns by police fit the gravity of the situation.

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Profession Webinar
How Does Educator Well-Being Impact Social-Emotional Awareness in Schools?
Explore how adult well-being is key to promoting healthy social-emotional behaviors for students. Get strategies to reduce teacher stress.
Content provided by International Baccalaureate
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure Webinar
A New Era In Connected Learning: Security, Accessibility and Affordability for a Future-Ready Classroom
Learn about Windows 11 SE and Surface Laptop SE. Enable students to unlock learning and develop new skills.
Content provided by Microsoft Surface
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Making Technology Work Better in Schools
Join experts for a look at the steps schools are taking (or should take) to improve the use of technology in schools.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Spotlight Spotlight on Healthy Schools
This Spotlight will help you discover how health and wellness can create a transformative school environment and more.
Student Well-Being How Schools Can Help Students With Learning Differences Overcome Mental Health Challenges
A Twitter chat focused on mental health needs of students with thinking and learning differences and teachers and how schools can help.
Marina Whiteleather
4 min read
Student Well-Being Q&A Mental Health Concerns Multiply for LGBTQ Students Who Are Asian American
Culturally relevant mental health programs are needed to help students feel a sense of belonging, report says.
5 min read
Counselor 1387286499 b
E+
Student Well-Being Marketing Deals Trickle Down From NCAA to High School Sports
The brightest stars in high school basketball now have business deals to prove it.
5 min read
Johnuel "Boogie" Fland shoots hoops in the gymnasium of Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, N.Y., Monday, May 2, 2022. Fland is among a growing number of high school athletes who have signed sponsorship deals for their name, image and likeness following a Supreme Court decision last year that allowed similar deals for college athletes. (AP Photo/Robert Bumsted)