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Search and Seizure Law in Public Education
Alexander v. Goose Creek
Harley Bress & Mick Vickroy


The Rights of All Americans
The Bill of Rights gives all Americans freedom from specific oppressions. The one that applies to this particular case is the Fourth Amendment.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
In short, this amendment protects all Americans against unreasonable search and seizure as imposed by government authority. Also, searches are only to be conducted under probable cause.

What Constitutes Probable Cause?
In the United States criminal court system, probable cause refers to facts or evidence that would make a reasonable person believe that a crime or wrong doing has been, is being, or will be committed (www.probablecause.org). In schools, searches can be justified by tips from reliable sources, direct observation of suspicious activity, and prior history of proscribed activity. A search is not justified by a students status as a "rule breaker," hunches, rumors, or association with wrongdoers (Wolf 12-13). Searches may also be justified by school staff if there is reasonable suspicion that school policy has been violated. Less suspicion is necessary to justify a search in an emergency situation, "such as the suspected presence of a weapon, explosive device, or drugs that might be quickly disposed of," (Shoop 63).

What Constitutes Reasonable Search and Seizure?
"The search must be reasonable related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction," (Shoop 63). For example, if a search is being conducted for a stolen baseball hat, it is not reasonable to search the students pants pockets, unless the pockets appear large enough to hold a hat. Searches that require a "pat-down" should be done by someone of the same sex as the student being searched. Lockers are usually considered school property and have no expectation of privacy, and therefor may be searched under any circumstances. Searches of students' cars or belongings on school property are controversial should be evaluated on the level of suspicion and the expected privacy. The use of drug-sniffing dogs is also a controversial subject and in general should only be conducted by law enforcement and should be done in private (Shoop 63). Strip searches and body cavity searches should never be conducted by school employees, but should be left to the discretion of law enforcement.

Justification of the Stratford High School Search
Principal George McCrackin, based on a single informant and school surveillance videos, felt justified in conducting a search for drugs in Stratford High School. The information pointed to a single student who was trafficking marijuana in the school. McCrackin informed police of suspected drug sales and they determined that the evidence was sufficient to conduct a search. The Goose Creek Police and Principal McCrackin cooperated in a paramilitary style drug raid on a hallway full of students.

Reasonableness of the Stratford High School Search
The plaintiffs of the class-action lawsuit, Alexander v. Goose Creek, claim that the search conducted the Goose Creek Police Department and the school staff was unconstitutional and violated their Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search and seizure. The complaint continues that the police's use of drawn firearms, aggressive tactics, and ferocious police dogs was unreasonable given the scope and object of the search. Students' accounts of events show that the tactics used by the police and school staff during the search left them feeling frightened, humiliated, betrayed, and even terrorized (Complaint - ACLU).

Evidence Acquired from the Search
No drugs, weapons, or contraband was found on any of the students searched that day. The student who was suspected of selling drugs on school property was absent that day, and no charges were filed against any of the students as a result of the investigation. A lawsuit was filed, however, against the City of Goose Creek, the Goose Creek Police Department, the Berkeley County School Board, Principal McCrackin, David Aarons (the supervising officer of the police department), and Chief of Police, Harvey Becker, in addition to 15 other unnamed officers of the department.

The Issue of Racial Bias
The accusation has been raised that this search was targeted at African American students. While Stratford High School, at that time, had more than 2700 students, less than a quarter of them were African American. Of the 107 students involved in the raid, over 66% of them were black (Lewin). Students felt that the timing of the raid (buses from black neighborhoods tended to arrive earlier than other buses) was an attempt to single out the African American students. The official response to this accusation was that black students were not singled out, as Spokesperson for Berkeley County School District says, "when you have reports that some students are selling drugs at a certain time in a certain place, whether they're black, white or Asian, that's when and where you go," (Lewin).

Alexander et. al. v. Goose Creek et. al.
Carl Alexander, Jr., a fifteen year old African American student of Stratford High School, along with 19 other students filed a class action lawsuit with the support of the ACLU and other civil rights organizations. The demands of the lawsuit included monetary damages for the students involved, the blocking of future raids, and a declaration of the unconstitutionality of the raid (Complaint - ACLU). The mediation agreement between the two parties mandated that all Goose Creek police officials and staff to receive periodic and mandatory training with regards to their authority on school grounds and in similar situations, as well as mandatory training to include at least 2 hours of school search and seizure training annually, and discussion of the Stratford High School incident. Also as a result of this lawsuit, “Goose Creek students now have a unique place in our nation,” said Graham Boyd, Director of the ACLU’s Drug Law Reform Project. “They are the only students in the nation who have complete protection of their Fourth Amendment rights of search and seizure.” No other school in the nation has this level of protection against law enforcement search and seizure.
Absent a warrant, police will now need either to have probable cause and pressing circumstances or voluntary consent in order to conduct law enforcement activity on school grounds - effectively granting Goose Creek students the essential privacy rights enjoyed by all Americans (Landmark Settlement - ACLU).

Works Cited
“Complaint in Alexander v. Goose Creek.” American Civil Liberties Union. 15 Dec. 2003.
ACLU. 3 Nov. 2009. <http://www.aclu.org/files/FilesPDFs
/complaint%20in%20alexander.pdf>
"Fourth Amendment Text." 3 Nov. 2009. <http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html#Am4>
"Goose Creek Consent Decree." American Civil Liberties Union. 7 Apr. 2007. ACLU. 3 Nov.
2009. <http://www.aclu.org/images/asset_upload_file313_24952.pdf>
"Goose Creek Raid Video Clips." YouTube. 3 Nov. 2009. <http://www.youtube.com
/watch?v=BU2e67hl4ks>
“Landmark Settlement Reached in Notorious School Drug Raid Caught on Tape.” American
Civil Liberties Union. 7 Apr. 2007. ACLU. 3 Nov. 2009. <http://www.aclu.org/drug-law- reform/landmark-settlement-reached-notorious-school-
drug-raid-caught-tape>
Lewin, Tamar “Raid at High School Leads to Racial Divide, Not Drugs,” The New York
Times. December 9, 2003.
Shoop, Robert J. "Conducting a Student Search." Principal Leadership 8.4 (2007): 62-64.
Print.
Wolf, Wendy, and Perry Moriearty. "School Search and Seizure: An Overview of the Law".
Youth Advocacy Project - Committee for Public Counsel Services. June, 2007. Web. 3 Nov. 2009. <http://www.youthadvocacyproject.org
/pdfs/Search-Seziure%20Training- FINAL.pdf>.