ACLU of Northern CA Challenges Mass Round-Up of High School Students for "Gang Database"

January 30, 2003 12:00 am

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ACLU of Northern CA Challenges Mass Round-Up of High School Students for “Gang Database”


SAN FRANCISCO – The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California filed a class-action lawsuit today challenging the unlawful round-up, detention and search of approximately 60 students whose names and photographs were then entered into a “gang database” maintained by the police.

“These high school students, most of them Latino or Asian, were subjected to the most humiliating kind of treatment,” said Ann Brick, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “This kind of mass round-up is a blatant violation of the students’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful searches and seizures.”

According to the ACLU lawsuit, on February 22, 2002, students at James Logan High School in Union City were illegally rounded up, detained for up to two hours, searched, interrogated and photographed by police officers and school officials. The information gathered from the students apparently was entered into a “gang database” maintained by the Union City Police Department.

The students are suing on behalf of all students at Logan High School who were included in the round-up on February 22, 2002, as well as on behalf of students who might be subjected to similar treatment in the future.

The ACLU lawsuit seeks a permanent court order barring any future detentions, searches, seizures, interrogations and photographing of students without probable cause or reasonable suspicion. The lawsuit also seeks an order requiring officials to expunge any records, files and databases containing information gathered on February 22, 2002. It also asks the court to issue an order requiring the Union City police to return the photographs they took that day.

“I was just going to get lunch when I was stopped and told that I had to follow the police officer,” said one of the students, Brian Benitez. “I protested that I had not done anything wrong, but I was warned that if I didn’t follow them they would force me. I was afraid, so I went.”

Now Benitez and the other students are worried about having their photographs in a police “gang database.” “Does this mean that I will be stopped again?” asks Benitez.

“I think it is very disturbing when our kids are treated like this,” said Ron Prentice, a parent of one of the students represented in the ACLU lawsuit. “These kids are going to school to learn, but the school is teaching them the wrong lesson when it rounds kids up who are simply going to class or eating lunch.”

Prentice’s 15-year-old-daughter Jessica said she was suspended for wearing red. “Red is one of my favorite colors and it’s also the school color – it was unfair for the school to single me out and tell me that I can’t wear red when other students can,” she said.

Another student, Victor Munoz, was playing cards with friends at a table outside the school building when one of the school administrators and police officers ordered him, his friends and the entire group of students in the area, to follow them inside the building.

” I was taken to a classroom with mostly Latino students where I was searched and some of my drawings were thrown away,” Munoz said. “They also took away my blue and yellow highlighters that I use for studying.”

” My son was not rounded up because he was accused of doing something wrong; he was rounded up because of who he is-a Latino kid-and where he was-having lunch with other Latino kids. That’s discrimination,” said Angela Munoz.

As a result of the round-up, a group of parents and community members have mobilized to prevent school sweeps and racial profiling from happening again at Logan High School or in the community.

“Families for Youth Rights was started to fight the profiling, harassment and photographing of youth by Logan High School and by the Union City Police Department,” said Maricela Gutiérrez, Director of School-Based Health Services at Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center and one of the founders of the group. “We view this lawsuit as an opportunity for Logan High administrators and Union City Police to recognize and guarantee the right of youth to an education free of punitive treatment and discrimination.”

School officials and the police have an obligation to respect students’ constitutional rights, added John Hansen, attorney with Nossaman, Guthner, Knox & Elliott, LLP who is working with the ACLU on a pro bono basis in representing the students. “We hope that by bringing this lawsuit we can prevent the repetition of this shameful and illegal incident,” he said.

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