Victims of South Carolina Raid Become Only Students in America with Complete Freedom From Unconstitutional Search and Seizure

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 Alexander

GOOSE CREEK, SC -- The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded a landmark settlement reached this week in its lawsuit challenging police tactics in the high-profile drug raid of Stratford High School in Goose Creek, South Carolina. The settlement sets a new standard for students’ constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

Absent a warrant, police will now need either to have probable cause and pressing circumstances or voluntary consent in order to conduct law enforcement activity on school grounds – effectively granting Goose Creek students the essential privacy rights enjoyed by all Americans.

“Police must now respect the fundamental freedoms of Goose Creek students,” said Alyse Bertenthal, an attorney with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project.  “The settlement properly raises the bar for student rights, and should serve as a model for every school in the country.”

The November 5, 2003 police raid of Stratford High School was recorded by both the school’s surveillance cameras and a police camera.  The tapes show students as young as 14 forced to the ground in handcuffs as officers in SWAT team uniforms and bulletproof vests aim guns at their heads and lead a drug dog to tear through their book bags. The ACLU represents 20 of the nearly 150 students caught up in the raid.

The raid was initiated by the school’s principal at the time, George McCrackin, who resigned shortly after the tapes surfaced on national television. The raid was authorized based on the principal’s suspicion that a single student was dealing marijuana. The raid was carried out despite the suspected student being absent at the time.  No drugs or weapons were found during the raid and no charges were filed.

While African Americans represented less than a quarter of the high school’s students, more than two-thirds of those caught up in the sweep were African American.  The raid took place in the early morning hours when the school’s hallways are predominantly populated with African American students whose buses arrive before those of their white classmates, which largely travel from different neighborhoods.  White students began to arrive during the raid and witnessed the hostile roundup and detention of their African American peers.

As 16-year-old Joshua Ody, one of the students caught up in the raid, put it, “I felt like I had less rights than other people that day.”

Following the raid, the ACLU brought a lawsuit on behalf of students’ families charging police and school officials with violating the students’ right to be free from unlawful search and seizure and use of excessive force.  The lawsuit demanded a court order declaring the raid unconstitutional and blocking the future use of such tactics, as well as damages on behalf of the students.

In addition to recognizing students’ rights to be free from unconstitutional search and seizure and restricting police tactics, the settlement establishes a $1.6 million dollar fund to compensate the students and help cover medical and counseling costs from the incident.

The cost of the settlement will be paid by the city of Goose Creek, the Goose Creek Police Department, and the Berkeley County School District where the school is located, with assistance from their respective insurance companies. 

It is not yet known exactly how many of the nearly 150 students will accept the settlement.  The offer came in response to a class-action lawsuit on behalf of 53 students, of which the ACLU’s lawsuit is a part.  While both sides have agreed to the terms of the settlement, it will be technically final in July 2006, when it is expected to receive judicial approval.

The ACLU’s clients are: 15-year-old Carl Alexander, Jr.; 15-year-old Rodney Goodwin; 17-year-old Samuel Ody III; 17-year-old Micah Bryant; 15-year-old Marcus Blakeney; 14-year-old Danyielle Ashley Cills; 15-year-old Cedric Penn, Jr.; 14-year-old Elijah Le'Quan Simpson; 14-year-old Jeremy Bolger; 14-year-old Tristan Cills; 14-year-old Arielle Pena; 17-year-old Jalania McCullough; 17-year-old Cedric Simmons; 14-year-old Nathaniel Smalls; 15-year-old Timothy Rice; 15-year-old Shnikqua Simmons; 16-year-old Joshua Ody; 16-year-old De'Nea Dykes; 15-year-old Chernitua Bryant; and 18-year-old Rodricus Perry.

A school surveillance video of the raid with narration by Principal McCrackin may be viewed at: http://stream.realimpact.net/?file=realimpact/aclu/20031205_ACLU_DrugBust.rm

The essential terms of the settlement may be viewed at: /drugpolicy/youth/24952lgl20060407.html

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