South Carolina Students Were Terrorized by Police Raid With Guns and Drug Dogs, ACLU Lawsuit Charges

December 15, 2003 12:00 am

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Carl Alexander with his mother Sharon Stafford

Watch the school surveillance videotape, narrated by Principal McCrackin (Real Player required)

Read the complaint in Alexander v. Goose Creek Police Dept.

GOOSE CREEK, SC – Students as young as 14 were terrorized by police with guns and drug-sniffing dogs in an early-morning SWAT raid at Stratford High School that violated their rights, the American Civil Liberties Union charged in a lawsuit filed today on behalf of 20 families.

“What this school administration allowed is truly shocking,” said Graham Boyd, Director of the ACLU’s Drug Policy Litigation Project and lead counsel in the lawsuit. “Officials at this school, along with law enforcement officers, treated innocent children like hardened criminals.”

The now-notorious SWAT team-style raid on schoolchildren sparked national outrage after a school videotape of the November 5 incident was broadcast on television. This week a police video of the raid surfaced showing even more disturbing detail of police handcuffing students and holding guns to their heads while a large drug dog sniffed and tore at the students’ book bags. No drugs or weapons were found during the sweep and no charges were filed.

The ACLU’s lawsuit charges school and police officials with violations of the students’ right to be free from unlawful search and seizure and use of excessive force. The lawsuit seeks a court order declaring the raids unconstitutional and blocking officials from carrying out future raids, as well as damages on behalf of the students who were terrorized.

“I was shocked and outraged that the principal would let this happen,” said Sharon Smalls, mother of Nathaniel Smalls, a ninth-grader who was forced to his knees with his hands behind his head while his socks, wallet and pockets were searched. “When I saw the video on television I almost lost it. It looked like something from the war, not from my son’s school.”

The ACLU said such unconstitutional tactics – more appropriate for a prison lockdown than a school – are on the rise as schools increasingly apply the “zero tolerance” approach to perceived drug problems in schools. But these escalating measures have no justification in reality since long-term studies show that student drug use has declined in the last 10 years.

Zero tolerance policies also have a disproportionate affect on minority students, who are frequently far more harshly disciplined than their white counterparts, according to a Harvard University study. A New York Times story about the raid noted that while black students make up less than a quarter of the 2,700 students at Stratford High School, two-thirds of the 107 students caught up in the sweep were black.

“Many people in the community are concerned that the police targeted black students in the raid,” said Denyse Williams, Executive Director of the ACLU of South Carolina. “The ACLU shares that concern, and we also believe that no student, black or white, should ever have to go through the kind of nightmare that our clients experienced on November 5.”

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

The ACLU complaint names as defendants the Goose Creek Police Department; the City of Goose Creek; Police Chief Harvey Becker; Supervisory Police Officer Dave Aarons; the Berkeley County School Board; Stratford High School Principal George McCrackin; and 20 unknown police officers identified only as “John Doe.”

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.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Charleston Division. The legal team consists of Boyd, along with ACLU volunteer attorneys Antonio Ponvert III of the Bridgeport, CT law firm Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder; David Rudovsky of the Philadelphia law firm Kairys, Rudovsky, Epstein & Messing, LLP; Gregg Myers of Charleston, SC; and David Flowers of Greenville,

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