Talk about adding insult to injury. It was enough that Stratford High School Principal George McCrackin (since replaced) sicced the police on his young charges. Or that the gung-ho cops of the suburban Charleston Goose Creek Piece Department treated the local high school as if it were a Baathist guerrilla hangout. Ordered to the hit the floor by screaming police raiders waving pistols, handcuffed if they complied too slowly, threatened by police drug dogs, the innocent students were understandably traumatized by the events of November 4. When school and police videotape of the raid aired, Goose Creek became the focus of nationwide outrage.
Now, as the school district prepares to defend itself against a pair of lawsuits brought by the students and their families with the help of local civil rights attorneys and the American Civil Liberties Union Drug Policy Litigation Project, it is arguing in court documents that the students themselves -- none of whom were found to be in possession of any drugs or other contraband -- were partly responsible.
"Any injuries or damages" suffered by the students in the raid was at least partly the result of their "own acts of comparative negligence, carelessness, recklessness...," the Berkeley County School District claimed in a filing in a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed December 18 by South Carolina attorney Ron Motley. The students are not entitled to monetary damages because the raid was "justified at inception and reasonable in scope," the district maintained.
The district also attempted to foist blame off on its co-conspirators, the Goose Creek Police Department and the city of Goose Creek. Any injuries suffered by the students, the district maintained, were the result of negligence by "some other party or parties over whom the defendants had no supervision or control." Also, the district should not be held responsible because McCrackin did not plan, order, and "execute the search."
"Does the district honestly think it's going to win points claiming police didn't aim loaded guns at students' faces, but rather only their torsos?" asked Ian Mance, a member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (http://www.ssdp.org) and Charleston native. "Those students were one hair-trigger away from serious injury or even death. To blame them for this is absolutely unconscionable."
SSDP has been organizing around the Goose Creek raid since it occurred nearly three months ago. SSDP activist Dan Goldman traveled to the area to meet with students, parents, and other activists in November, and reported a warm reception -- from most quarters. Now ex-Principal McCrackin was not happy to see him, Goldman reported.
"Our drug laws ought to protect youth," said new SSDP national director Scarlett Swerdlow. "Unfortunately, as the continued controversy in Goose Creek shows, all too often youth are the victims. We were shocked to see that now they are trying to blame the students."
SSDP is not only shocked, it is organizing. "We've been talking to some of the contacts Dan Goldman made when he was down there. South Carolina holds its presidential primary next week, and we're trying to mobilize our contacts to ask candidates about the raid and what they would do as president to protect the privacy of students against unreasonable raids like the one in Goose Creek," said Swerdlow. "In New Hampshire, our communications director, Melissa Milam, was able to ask General Clark about it, and he said he thought it was atrocious that students were treated that way. We'd like to hear Clark and the other candidates address this issue while they're in South Carolina," she said.
"We have also put out a press release criticizing the district for blaming the students, and we have given our students on campuses across the country some ideas of what they can do to draw attention to this issue while attention is focused on South Carolina," she added. Those tactics include writing letters to the editor, urging reporters to use the raid as a local angle in campaign coverage, and asking questions of candidates, she said.
Lawyers for the students had a field day with the district's arguments. "It's an absolute outrage," attorney Ron Motley told the Charleston Post & Courier, comparing the district to a drunk driver running over someone and then blaming the pedestrian. "I can't wait to tell a jury this," he said. As for the district's contention that it wasn't liable for damages because the students were lawfully restrained, Motley replied: "If you say pointing a Glock at someone's head is a lawful restraint, then you must have grown up in Nazi Germany."
The school district "may say this is a technical defense, but for the life of me, I don't know how it helps their arguments," added Jack Cordray, another attorney for the students. "They try to teach children to be accountable for their actions, but when they are called to account, they deny responsibility and point to others, including children."
The district's filing came as part of a motion to dismiss the case. No word yet on when a ruling in the motion will come.