At 8:30 a.m. on December 11th, 2012, armed police officers rushed into Jesse Snodgrass’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.
Jesse is our son, and he has autism. We knew nothing about this until we called the school that afternoon at 3:45, after Jesse 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.
Jesse 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 Jesse to sell him his prescription medicine, but since we keep it locked away, he refused. On the second day of school, Deputy Dan gave Jesse $20, with a demand to get him marijuana, and began to text him around the clock. During this time Jesse received 60 text messages from Deputy Dan. On the fourth day of school, after art class, under constant pressure, Jesse 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.
Jesse Snodgrass is not a drug dealer.
In January of 2013, a criminal judge saw extenuating circumstances, and Jesse’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 Jesse 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.”
Jesse returned to school in March but the district still attempted to expel him by filing an appeal of the judge’s ruling to try and expel him again. This was confusing because…our son was scheduled to graduate in December 2013, and the appeal process would not have be completed until after his graduation, but how can you expel a student that has already graduated? This expensive appeal was 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.
Jesse has now graduated high school and has received his diploma.