December 6, 2003 - The State (SC)

17 Students File Suit Over School Drug Raid

Group Seeks Money for Damages, Injunction Against Another Such Raid

By Lauren Leach, Staff Writer

Seventeen Stratford High School students are suing the city of Goose Creek and the Berkeley County school district in federal court, alleging police and school officials terrorized them in a drug raid last month.

Individuals named as defendants in the suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Charleston, include: Stratford High School principal George McCrackin; Berkeley County school superintendent Chester Floyd; Goose Creek police Chief Harvey Becker; and Goose Creek police Lt. Dave Aarons.

The suit also names the city of Goose Creek, its police department and the Berkeley County School District as defendants.

School officials declined to comment on the details of the lawsuit but expressed regret about the incident.

The Nov. 5 raid by police and school officials has created a national firestorm, in part because it was caught on videotape by the school and made available to a local television reporter.

Stratford officials have said they had reason to believe drugs were being sold in the hallway before classes started, but no drugs were found in the raid.

Some Stratford students were arrested on drug-related charges earlier this year.

In the lawsuit, the 17 students asked for an unspecified amount of money for damages and an injunction against another such raid.

They also asked for a declaration that their constitutional rights had been violated.

The suit charges the students' Fourth and 14th Amendment rights were violated. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure; the 14th forbids states from depriving "any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law."

The suit also levels charges of assault, battery and false arrest.

McCrackin "planned, ordered, orchestrated and executed the Nov. 5 raid on the Stratford campus," the suit said.

The school district, the police department and McCrackin bear responsibility for what happened, the suit said, in part because they failed to train and supervise their employees prior to the raid.

The suit also said McCrackin "has made clear" that the raid "will be and is the standard policy for Stratford's administration."

When contacted Friday, McCrackin said he had not received any information about the lawsuit. "Even if I had, I can't comment," he said.

Floyd said he heard about the lawsuit Friday afternoon and did not have a copy of the suit, but described the matter as "very unfortunate."

"We've had local, state, national and international news coverage on this," Floyd said. "It's a month old. I'm trying to get everything back to normal. I'm sorry it all happened. I'm sorry it's a lawsuit."

In the suit, the students provide details of what happened to them on Nov. 5 when police burst into the school to conduct the raid. Maurice Harris, a 14-year-old freshman, said one officer pointed a gun at his face. "Maurice can still see the end of the barrel looking him in his face," the suit said.

The suit comes one day after Ninth Circuit Solicitor Ralph Hoisington of Charleston turned over the case to South Carolina's attorney general. His announcement angered parents who attended the news
conference at Goose Creek City Hall.

Attorneys for the students said Hoisington's decision played no part in the decision to file suit.

"It was already going to happen," said Dwayne Green of Charleston, one of the students' attorneys. "I share the concern that many members of our community have that children shouldn't have to go through those types of tactics or procedures. I think there is a general concern that no one would want that to happen to their children."

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a South Carolina native, traveled to the Lowcountry this week and announced plans for a Dec. 16 rally to protest the drug raid.

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