March 12, 2004 - The Indiana Daily Student (IN Edu)

Spring Breakers Targeted

Florida Attorney, IU Alumnus Offers Advice for Students

By Mike McElroy

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

After of week of freedom from academia, many IU students will return from spring break with sunburns, suntans or at least a few good stories to tell.

Unfortunately for some, these stories might include probation, the "drunk tank" and an all-expenses-not-paid return trip for a court date.

Criminal Defense Attorney and IU alumnus Michael Grabner said a criminal record is not an uncommon souvenir for spring breakers leaving his native Panama City Beach, Fla.

"As they say, you come on vacation, leave on probation," he said. "The bottom line is, people are going to do what they're going to do. They end up getting charged with far worse than what they're guilty of."

While some Panama City officers disagree, Grabner said student vacationers are frequently the target of "overzealous" law enforcement on the beaches.

In the past, undercover officers have enticed college students into harsher charges "in a way that's intimidating or alluring," Grabner said. The officers, also known as "beach combers," typically concentrate on drug charges related to marijuana or ecstacy, asking students to sell substances intended for personal use.

"There's no conspiracy to harass the students," Grabner said. "But law enforcement has the tendency to get carried away. It's almost like a cowboy mentality. You've got grown men who don't usually have very exciting jobs, who get to drive around on the beach, look at young girls, playing cop."

Junior Cassie Sumner had her own run-in with the law at Panama City Beach last year. She said a nearby officer hand-cuffed her after she was invited into another hotel room to use the occupants' restroom late at night. The officer then escorted her to the hotel lobby wherehe lectured her and threw her out of the hotel.

"He decided he was going to take me back to that room and make a mockery of me," she said. "Basically, I got arrested for peeing. He literally took me to the doors and pushed me out and shut the doors behind me at 1 a.m."

But Lt. Ricky Ramie of the Bay County Sheriff's Office said safety is the department's number one priority.

"We're not just down here trying to generate statistics," he said.

Though the "beach combers" program has been decommissioned, Ramie would not comment on the new methods that will take its place.

In order to stay out of trouble, Ramie suggests students exercise common sense.

"Be responsible -- that's the most important thing," he said. "Most of the people we come in contact with draw their own attention. If you're drinking a long neck beer, cruising down the highway, Ray Charles will pick up on that."

If an officer approaches them, students should be smart and be polite, Grabner said.

"If they're going to party in Panama City, they need to do it in the privacy of their own hotel room with people they know and trust and the door closed," he said. "( They should ) never give consent for law enforcement to search their person or belongings. I would tell them to leave their drugs in Bloomington."

Ramie also suggested one thing not to leave behind.

"You get down here and you leave all your moral and ethical values in Indiana," he said. "All we ask is if they could just act as if their parents were here with them."

Grabner said it's often best to avoid calling attention.

"If you've got Grateful Dead stickers on your car and you're speeding," he said, "you can bet you're getting pulled over."

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