ACLU Challenges Detroit Police over Mass Searches of Public School Students

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
June 10, 2004 12:00 am

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DETROIT -The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today filed a federal lawsuit challenging a Detroit city policy that allows police and school officials to conduct mass searches of public school students.

“”These searches are not based on any individualized suspicion of criminal behavior,”” said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. “”Before you treat someone like a criminal, you have to suspect that they’ve committed a crime.””

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of three Mumford High School students who, along with their entire student body, were subjected to a mass physical search on February 18, 2004 pursuant to a Detroit School Board policy that allows periodic “”sweeps”” without notice. The search included a pat-down of the students, and inspection of the contents of their pockets, purses and school bags.

Metal detectors are always operational at the school’s entrance, but were moved to the back hall on that day. Instead, students were ushered into the school, lined up against the walls, and, under the close supervision of Detroit Police and the School Board’s Public Safety Officers, marched to the end of the hall where they were physically searched. They were then taken to the school auditorium and not allowed to leave until the entire search was concluded, about one and one half hours later.

Some students questioned the police officers’ right to search, but were quickly silenced when an officer told them to “”shut up”” or they would be arrested. “”My grandson was scared,”” said Sharon Kelso, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “”I’ve raised him to be respectful, but he was treated disrespectfully. What really bothers me is that I dropped him off to get an education, and instead he missed two hours of classroom instruction only to be treated like a prisoner.””

The unlawful sweeps were planned and scheduled in advance and therefore not based on reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe that any particular student or group of students had committed or was about to commit a crime or violated the law in any way. No guns or drugs were found at Mumford High School.

According to information obtained by the ACLU, it is believed that at least two other high schools were searched in the same manner, including Murray Wright High School and Pershing High School.

Amos Williams, the ACLU cooperating attorney handling the case, likened this practice to a police raid with no warning or warrant. “”As a retired police lieutenant with 17 years of experience with the Detroit Police Department, I know what’s right and what’s wrong in a search. A search with no particular or individualized suspicion turned this schoolhouse into a jailhouse.””

The complaint is online at: /node/35072

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