It just keeps getting worse for the perpetrators of the now notorious drug raid at Stratford High School in Goose Creek, South Carolina, last month. A class action lawsuit was filed December 5, another lawsuit will be filed Monday, and the county prosecutor has handed his investigation of possible police misconduct in the case to state officials for possible prosecution.
In that raid, whose impact was heightened this week by the release of new police video of the assault, Goose Creek Police Department officers invaded the school early on the morning of November 5, yelling and screaming at students to get on the floor, waving guns around, handcuffing students slow to comply, and searching the area with drug dogs within inches of the terrified victims. The cops had been called by Principal George McCrackin, who suspected "drug activity" among his charges. No drugs were found, nor were any weapons. Stratford High School is a predominantly white high school, but 90 of the 107 students involved in the raid were black. Some parents and others have suggested the timing and targeting of the raid was racially motivated.
In the lawsuit filed earlier this month in federal court in Charleston, 17 Stratford students are suing the city of Goose Creek and the Berkeley County School District, as well as four individuals, for violating their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The former protects against unreasonable searches and seizures; the latter bars states from depriving "any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law," and would be the basis for a charge of racial discrimination. The 17 students are asking for an unspecified amount of damages and an injunction to bar similar raids in the future.
The individuals named in the suit are Principal McCrackin, Berkeley County school superintendent Chester Floyd, Goose Creek police Chief Harvey Becker, and Goose Creek police Lt. Dave Aarons, commander of the raid. It's a tough break for Floyd, who had no advance warning of the raid and who pronounced himself "appalled" that it had occurred. But while Floyd might not be to blame, as head of the school board, he is ultimately responsible for the behavior of his principals and other school system employees. "We've had local, state, national and international news coverage on this," Floyd told the Associated Press upon hearing of the lawsuit. "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."
But wait, there's more. The American Civil Liberties Union's Drug Policy Litigation Project (http://www.aclu.org/DrugPolicy/DrugPolicy.cfm?ID=10972&c=19) will hold a press conference Monday announcing that it will file a lawsuit on behalf of 20 more students alleging Fourth Amendment violations, the project's Anjuli Verma told DRCNet. "This is for the students as individuals, not a class-action suit," she said, differentiating the ACLU action from the one filed by local attorneys. "And it is not alleging racial discrimination at this point, although we think the facts speak for themselves. About three-quarters of that school is white, while three-quarters of those caught in the raid were black." The families of students in the second lawsuit specifically requested the ACLU represent them, Verma said, but the group would cooperate with attorneys in the other lawsuit. "We may well end up being consolidated and heard as one case anyway," she said.
Meanwhile, the local prosecutor, Ninth Circuit Solicitor Ralph Hoisington of Charleston, punted his investigation of police misconduct up to State Attorney General Henry McMaster the day before the first lawsuit was filed. While some parents criticized his decision not to file charges, Hoisington's explanation suggested he thought charges might be merited. "It's a no-win situation. If I decide to prosecute, I've alienated the entire department," while if he doesn't, he faces an angry community, he told the Charleston Post & Courier. Still, he said, if he reviews a case of alleged misconduct and thinks the police action was justified, he would see no need to send it on for further analysis. "If it's clearly justified, I don't think it's a good idea to send it off to meander through the process when it's already clear to me they were correct in their actions," he said.
Attorney General McMaster can now decide to file charges against the police, decline to prosecute, or hand the case off to another prosecutor unlikely to face a conflict of interest with the Goose Creek Police Department.
For previous DRCNet reporting on the Stratford raid, visit: