At 8:30 a.m. on December 11th, 2012, armed police officers rushed into our autistic son’s classroom at Chaparral High School in Temecula, CA. He was handcuffed in front of his classmates, taken away, medically probed, interrogated without a lawyer, booked, and then locked up. We knew nothing about this until we called the school that afternoon at 3:45, after our son had not returned home. We were not allowed to see him until two days later, in court, and the look in his eyes will forever haunt us.
In August 2012, he transferred to a new school after we moved. We were amazed that he immediately made a new friend named Daniel who was in his art class. To the other students, Daniel became known as Deputy Dan, because, to them, he was clearly an undercover cop.
Our son was an easy target for Deputy Dan. Diagnosed with autism at age 5, he also has bipolar, Tourette’s, and anxiety disorders. Autism is a disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication. He has tremendous difficulty making friends.
Deputy Dan asked our son to sell him his prescription medicine, but since we keep it locked away, he refused. On the second day of school, Deputy Dan gave our son $20, with a demand to get him marijuana, and began to text him around the clock. During this time our son received 60 text messages from Deputy Dan. On the fourth day of school, after art class, under constant pressure, our son burned himself badly and was sent to the school nurse. He is self-injurious which was noted in his student records. Three weeks later, desperate to keep his new friend, he provided Deputy Dan with about a half-joint of marijuana.
The majority of Deputy Dan’s busts at Chaparral High were special education students. Deputy Dan’s stated goal was to identify and purchase illegal drugs from persons dealing on the high school campus. Our son is not a drug dealer.
In January of 2013, a criminal judge saw extenuating circumstances, and our son’s case has been dismissed. Still, the Temecula Valley Unified School District moved to permanently expel him. Only three people in the school district knew about the undercover operation while it was occurring. Those people are Robert Brown, a member of the board of ed who was the board president at that time, Director of Child Welfare and Attendance Michael Hubbard, and Superintendent Timothy Ritter, who according to sworn testimony, is the person who authorized the operation. We met with Mr. Hubbard in his office where he was informing us of the expulsion process, and we told him that our son’s civil rights had been violated. We asked him to do the right thing and simply allow our son to return to school. He refused.
We then took the school district to a due process hearing, and a Judge ordered our son reinstated to his school. In a harshly-worded decision she wrote, “Even though Hubbard knew Student was a special needs student, he knew Student was targeted in the undercover operation and that Student was going to be arrested, District did nothing.”
Our son returned to school in March but the district still wants to expel him and has filed an appeal of the judge’s ruling to try and expel him again. This is confusing because…our son is graduating in December and the appeal process would not be complete until after our son has graduated. So, even if their lawyers were to overturn this decision it would be pointless because… how can you expel a student that has already graduated? This expensive appeal is being funded by our tax dollars. Have we lost valuable teachers and programs to pay for these types of questionable decisions?
On October 30, 2013 we 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. We believe that by making our son’s story public, and by holding the school district accountable through highly visible legal action, we have the opportunity to make what happened in Temecula so well known that when school districts are approached by law enforcement, offering to bring undercover drug stings to their campuses, school administrators will think twice.
Please support this effort with a donation to the Snodgrass Legal Fund, by clicking on this link.
These undercover drug sting operations are still happening in schools across the nation at an alarming rate, and they do not work. The Los Angeles Police Department, who pioneered these operations, actually stopped doing them because they were ineffective, and entrapped a very high ratio of special education students and minorities. And zero tolerance policies allow the civil rights of kids to be trampled, which is what happened to our son.
So we find it ironic that these sting operations entrap kids who don’t have drug problems, while ignoring the real issues involving students and drugs. They create problems and headlines, but never solutions.