In Settlement of ACLU Lawsuit, New Mexico School District Agrees to Call Off Drug-Sniffing Dogs

Affiliate: ACLU of New Mexico
October 25, 2001 12:00 am

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ALBUQUERQUE – In a victory for students’ rights, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico today announced that the Lordsburg Municipal School District has agreed to end its monthly drug-dog sweeps of students in grades 5-12.

The settlement follows a lawsuit brought by the ACLU on April 20, 2001 in federal district court on behalf of students and parents. Prior to the ACLU’s involvement, the school had refused to stop the sweeps when parents complained.

“Bringing the lawsuit was a courageous act for the students and their parents because they did not know how the community would react,” said Jane Gagne, a cooperating attorney for the ACLU of New Mexico. “But these families followed their convictions that the searches were wrong. Interestingly, the families received great encouragement from members of the community.”

During the random drug-dog sniffs of the classrooms — also called “lockdowns” or “sweeps” — the students were required to remain in their seats while the drug-dog, led by a handler, walked up and down the rows of students, sniffing the students and their possessions. If the dog “alerted” to a student, a school official searched the student.

One plaintiff in the lawsuit, Michael Ruiz, was bitten by a dog in the pants pocket even though he was found to be carrying no illegal substances. Dogs also alerted to food that was in students’ backpacks.

In their lawsuit, the students and their parents, represented by the ACLU, sought to prohibit the school district from conducting any further drug dog searches of the students, saying that the practice violated the students’ Fourth Amendment rights to be free of unreasonable search and seizure.

A hearing had been scheduled for October 29 before a federal court, but it was vacated after the Lordsburg School Board agreed to permanently stop all drug dog sniffs of students and to pay attorneys’ fees and costs.

Peter Simonson, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Mexico, noted that the students and their parents did not seek and did not receive any money in the settlement. “The only thing the families wanted was for the searches of the students to stop. This settlement is a victory,” he said.

Attorneys in the case were Gagne and Jane Thompson Tabet.

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