February 12, 2004 - The Associated Press

Police Deny Fault In Suit Over School Drug Raid

Meanwhile, Goose Creek Controversy Leads School Board To Change Search Policies

By Bruce Smith, AP

CHARLESTON - Goose Creek police acted in their official capacity and did not violate student constitutional rights during a Stratford High drug sweep, in which officers with guns drawn ordered students to the floor, according a response to a federal lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the Berkeley County School Board on Tuesday gave initial approval to changes in how student searches are handled. The 13-page response to the lawsuit was filed this week.

"Chief Harvey Becker was engaged in the performance of his official duties and at no time did he violate any clearly established constitutional rights of the plaintiffs, which were known or should have been known to him," read the response.

The filing also said the plaintiffs failed to state a cause of legal action or facts supporting why "the City of Goose Creek Police Department can be sued or held liable."

Seventeen Stratford students sued in December, alleging police and school officials terrorized them during the Nov. 5 raid which attracted national attention. Later, the American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of 20 other students, alleging violations of constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure.

In the days after the raid, videotape of officers with guns drawn and students on the floor was televised nationwide. Officers found no drugs and made no arrests during the raid.

In December, the Rev. Jesse Jackson led hundreds through nearby North Charleston in protest.

The filings this week answered the first suit on behalf of the city of Goose Creek, its police department and its chief.

Earlier, the Berkeley County School District responded to the suit, saying the raid violated no constitutional rights. The students who sued are not entitled to damages because the activities of district personnel "were justified at inception and reasonable in scope," it said.

The separate response on behalf of the city and its police department cited a defense of sovereign immunity and, as a first defense, said the students failed to state a claim for which relief can be granted. The response also said student claims for punitive damages violate the double jeopardy clause of the U.S. Constitution "in that the defendant could be subjected to multiple awards of punitive damages for the same set of facts."

Among the changes to student searches being considered by the Berkeley County School Board is a policy saying teachers or administrators should make "a reasonable attempt to contact" parents before any questioning of students, it said. Searches would also be limited in area and conducted only with trained and reliable dogs, avoiding physical contact between the dogs and students.

The proposed policy would require that searches "be limited in scope" and that measures used be "reasonably related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the person searched and the nature of the suspected infraction."

As required by state law, school administrators must immediately call police after noticing that students are doing anything that may injure themselves, someone else or property. Otherwise, administrators must confer with the superintendent before calling police.

After officers are called, they must consult with the superintendent on how to proceed in a way that will "have a minimally disruptive effect on school operations and student rights," the policy says.

As of Wednesday, no answers had been filed to the second lawsuit.

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