Californians Doug and Catherine Snodgrass are suing their son’s high school for allowing undercover police officers to set up the 17-year-old special-needs student for a drug arrest.
In a video segment on ABC News, they say they were “thrilled” when their son — who has Asperger’s and other disabilities and struggled to make friends — appeared to have instantly made a friend named Daniel.
“He suddenly had this friend who was texting him around the clock,” Doug Snodgrass told ABC News. His son had just recently enrolled at Chaparral High School.
“Daniel,” however, was an undercover cop with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department who “hounded” the teenager to sell him his prescription medication. When he refused, the undercover cop gave him $20 to buy him weed, and he complied — not realizing the guy he wanted to befriend wanted him behind bars.
In December, the unnamed senior was arrested along with 21 other students from three schools, all charged with crimes related to the two officers’ undercover drug operation at two public schools in Temecula, California (Chaparral and Temecula Valley High School). This March, Judge Marian H. Tully ruled that Temecula Valley Unified School District could not expel the student, and had in fact failed to provide him with proper services.
“Within three days of the officer’s requests, [the] student burned himself due to his anxiety,” Tully said. “Ultimately, the student was persuaded to buy marijuana for someone he thought was a friend who desperately needed this drug and brought it to school for him.”
In January, a juvenile court judge decided that extenuating circumstances applied to the student’s case, and ruled that he serve informal probation and 20 hours of community service, which would translate into “no finding of guilt.”
Since being allowed back to school, Snodgrass says his son has been “bullied” via suspensions and threat of expulsion. “Our son was cleared of the criminal charge, but the school continued to try and expel him,” Snodgrass said.
The Snodgrasses are now suing the school for unspecified damages. District administrators, they told ABC, should have protected their son, but instead “participated with local authorities in an undercover drug sting that intentionally targeted and discriminated against [him].”
“Sending police and informants to entrap high-school students is sick,” says Tony Newman, director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance. “We see cops seducing 18-year-olds to fall in love with them or befriending lonely kids and then tricking them into getting them small amounts of marijuana so they can stick them with felonies. We often hear that we need to fight the drug war to protect the kids. As these despicable examples show, more often the drug war is ruining young people’s lives and doing way more harm than good.”
Stephen Downing, a retired law enforcement veteran and former captain of detectives in the LAPD, said the behavior of the police in this case points to troubling trends in policy. “It is evidence of just how far we have gone, and how callous we have become, in treating our children with the care and dignity they should be entitled.”
“The fact that the police officer chose to prey upon the most vulnerable” is “egregious” but not surprising, he said. He pointed toward policing tactics and policies — like quotas, the increasing criminalization of America’s schools, and the war on drugs — that put pressure on police to treat normal teen behavior as criminal.
Downing, who is a member of the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, also pointed out, “The less fortunate are always targeted.”
“Do we ever hear of an undercover operation like this conducted in an exclusive private school, or on a university campus, or on the stages of a movie studio in Hollywood? No, we don’t. Why? Because those people would complain, get lawyers and make life miserable for the status quo.”
“The parents of this child are right to bring a lawsuit, to take that needed step that will, hopefully, bring about the kind of change that will stop this kind of tyrannical corruption and harm to our children,” he said.
Drug crimes are not the only charges unfairly leveled against students. Marginalized youths are regularly the targets of the school-to-prison pipeline, as in the case of Kiera Wilmot, a 16-year-old girl who was arrested less than a month ago for accidentally causing a small explosion during a science experiment.