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April 7, 2006 - Drug War Chronicle (US)

Cops, School District to Pay Students $1.2 Million in Goose Creek Raid Settlement

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Goose Creek, South Carolina, became instantly infamous on November 5, 2003, when 14 members of the Goose Creek Police were caught on videotape terrorizing a hallway full of predominantly black students at Stratford High School in a search for drugs at the behest of the school principal.

The video, captured by school surveillance cameras, showed police yelling and ordering stunned students to the floor at gunpoint and subjecting them to a drug dog search. Police came up with no guns and no drugs.

Reaction to the raid was fast and furious as outraged parents were joined by national drug reform groups including Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR) and Alabama activist Loretta Nall, then carrying the banner of the US Marijuana Party (and now running for governor of Alabama under the Libertarian banner) in holding demonstrations, stoking media interest, and demanding that justice be done. Principal George McCrackin resigned and the Goose Creek Police modified their drug raid policies.

But that didn't satisfy the demand for justice, which crystallized in lawsuits filed by 59 students and their families against the Goose Creek police and the Berkeley County School District. On Tuesday, a federal judge gave his approval to a preliminary settlement of the case in which the police and the school district agree to pay $1.2 million for violating the rights of the students subjected to the drug raid.

Under the proposed settlement, there would be two classes of students awarded damages. The first class would be those who filed suit or required medical or psychological treatment, while the second class would be other students in the hallway at the time.

Fritz Jekel, an attorney for the students, told the Associated Press he estimated students in the first group would get $11,370 and those in the second group $6,025. But those figures could change depending on the size of the two classes of awardees. Lawyers for the students will receive another $400,000, making the total pay-out $1.6 million.

"Part of it was about money, and the other was about what kind of court order they'd be subject to in order to prevent this kind of thing from happening again," said Graham Boyd, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Drug Law Reform Project, which participated in the lawsuits. But money was only part of it, Boyd said in an interview with MTV News -- the case was about constitutional rights.

"In this case, the school principal had some sketchy information about a kid who was selling marijuana in the hallway of this school," Boyd said. "The information was that the kid was black, and the principal's response was to go to the city police and say, 'Let's do a police action on this thing.' The city police had just gotten trained on SWAT tactics for taking down a crack house, and so you had cops with bulletproof vests and guns hiding in stairwells and closets when students arrived at school."

"Whether the police or a school want to search or seize a person, it has to be done in a manner that's reasonable," Boyd said. "There was no reason to suspect any single person in that hallway, yet every single person in there was forced, with no choice, and seized by police in a completely unreasonable manner."

Now, it appears that the Goose Creek Police, the Berkeley County School Board, and the good taxpayers of Berkeley County will pay out the nose for ignoring the constitution.

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