Contact: Mikayla Hellwich
ENTRAPPED AUTISTIC TEEN’S LAWSUIT AGAINST SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS DISMISSED
Temecula, CA – On October 21st, the lawsuit filed by the family of Jesse Snodgrass against Temecula Valley Unified School District administrators for the teen’s manipulation and entrapment in a 2012 undercover drug sting was dismissed. The Snodgrass family previously filed a lawsuit against Director of Child Welfare and Attendance Michael Hubbard and Director of Special Education Kimberly Velez for negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and other charges. The judge dropped the case on the grounds that the defendants could not be proven as knowing participants in targeting and entrapping Jesse Snodgrass, but the primary issue of entrapping those with special needs at school remains a significant point of concern.
“Since the time of Jesse's arrest and subsequent publicity surrounding the lawsuit, school drug stings in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties have stopped and not one child has been perp-walked in handcuffs out of their classroom,” said LADP Deputy Chief Stephen Downing (Ret.), a board member for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a criminal justice group working to end the War on Drugs. “But there's nothing to stand in the way of drug warriors and their school board abettors victimizing more unsuspecting kids in the future. As a society, we have to decide that the law needs to protect children from being manipulated and lied to by authorities. It further deepens the mistrust between citizens and law enforcement and endangers and harms children and their families. ”
Jesse, who has autism, and has difficulty making friends and interpreting everyday social cues, was falsely befriended by an undercover police officer who repeatedly insisted that Jesse find marijuana for him. After being harassed for nearly three weeks via 60 text messages, Jesse was able to buy half a joint from a homeless man to give to the officer. Jesse bought marijuana for his “friend” once more before refusing to do it again, at which point the officer ceased all communication with Jesse. Shortly thereafter, Jesse was arrested in front of his classmates along with 21 additional students, many of whom have special needs.
School drug stings, particularly those in which children with special needs are targeted, are yet another egregious manifestation of the drug war’s “tough on crime” mentality. This has long pervaded law enforcement operations and has resulted in numerous examples of dehumanizing otherwise law-abiding students. One example of this problematic attitude is found in a 1988 Drug Free School Zone implementation manual created by the Chiefs of Police National Drug Task Force in which the Chiefs refer to the process of arresting students as “taking out the garbage.”
The LAPD ceased undercover sting operations in schools in 2005, after school district officials noticed that many of the students caught in these stings had special needs and disabilities, that mostly small amounts of marijuana were involved , and that the operations were unsuccessful at reducing drug availability. The Justice Department would later confirm the findings of the report.
The Snodgrass family intends to appeal their case.
LEAP is dedicated to ending decades of failed policy that have wreaked havoc on public safety, diverted valuable resources away from fighting violent crimes, and have ultimately ignored the public health crisis of addiction.