San Diego police, continuing their undercover crackdown on drug sales at high schools, Thursday began arresting more than 50 people in connection with narcotics traffic at Madison and San Diego high schools.
In all, 57 suspects were arrested or named in warrants Thursday and late Wednesday. The majority are students who are accused of selling small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, PCP, amphetamines and assorted illicit pills to officers who were posing as their classmates.
Madison and San Diego are the fifth and sixth campuses caught in the controversial undercover program that started in September, 1983, when two officers were enrolled as students at Patrick Henry and Hoover high schools.
But unlike those operations and the subsequent dragnets at Morse and Mira Mesa high schools in spring, 1984, authorities this time believe they apprehended adults off-campus who marketed drugs to the students.
"The thing that may be unusual in this case is that for the the first time we've been able to arrest some of the adult suppliers to the high schools," police Chief Bill Kolender said in a morning press conference.
A female officer posed as a student at Madison, and a male officer worked the San Diego campus.
Under questioning from reporters, Lt. Skip DiCerchio, who administered the operations, confirmed that a third undercover officer, a woman, was at another campus last semester, but she was removed because the operation became "compromised." Authorities would not identify the school or say whether the officer would be used on another campus.
As has been their policy, police and San Diego Unified School District officials refused to say whether officers are still operating undercover on other campuses. Kolender said he believes that a level of paranoia about the possible presence of "narcs" on campus deters drug dealing.
Suspicion of more stings had been high on San Diego campuses.
"It surprised me in the sense that I wasn't ready for it," said Mark Superneau, editor of the Madison High Talon student newspaper. "A few months ago, there had been suspicion on campus. We were expecting one sometime this year, because it figured to be our turn. . . . But it took so long to happen that we kind of forgot about it."
"I don't think it's a real shock to anyone," said Kathy Deen, a teacher at San Diego High. "We kind of expected it would happen here."
The principal's offices at both schools referred a reporter's calls to district headquarters. As in previous operations, principals were informed that undercover officers were on campus shortly before the first warrants were executed. In an effort to ensure security, Supt. Thomas Payzant and his top aide, Gene Brucker, were aware of the presence of the officers, Kolender said. School board members were not told in advance, he said.
Police and school district officials had come under criticism during previous school arrests by some parents of arrested students, defense lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union. In many cases, they asserted, students were encouraged to break the law by the undercover officers.
"What we object to is the police sending someone on campus to entice young people to sell drugs . . . young people who otherwise would not be selling drugs but for the urging of the undercover police officer," Greg Marshall, staff lawyer with the ACLU, said Thursday.
Police and school district officials defended the procedures.
"We're comfortable with having the police on campus," said Tina Dyer, school district counsel. "We think we have overwhelming support from the community to do whatever we can do to get drugs off campus."
Kolender said that, in the previous cases, "every single person that was charged was convicted. Every one. There were no cases thrown out of court. And, in fact, we got letters of commendation from judges complimenting us on the professionalism and integrity of the undercover officers."
The people Kolender described as suppliers were arrested Wednesday night in the execution of two search warrants.
Michael A. Beltran, 21; Marc S. Ray, 21, and William Martin, 21, were arrested at in the 2700 block of Adrian Street. Officers said they seized cocaine and marijuana valued at about $2,000 at the residence.
The other search warrant resulted in the arrest of Christopher Pickens, 21, and a 17-year-old juvenile in the 3300 block of Idlewild Way. Officers said they confiscated several firearms, including a loaded revolver, and more than $1,000 worth of methamphetamines. A 20-year-old male was also arrested there on traffic warrants, but not in the drug case.
Other adults arrested Thursday were identified as Cindy Fay Clint, Timothy Dale Eggers, Steven Gerard Hedrick, Charles Curtis Parker, Ann Marie Seay, Armanda Witzen, John Nathan Davidow and Martin Pena. Police did not release ages or say whether any of the adults were students.
Late Thursday, police said 50 of the 57 suspects had been apprehended.
Police provided a detailed accounting of the drug purchases and arrests at Madison and San Diego high schools. In total, $724 was spent by officers to make drug purchases at the two schools. The average amount spent per day was $10.60.
Of the 57 suspects, 47 are high school students--30 at Madison, 21 at San Diego. Seventeen are 18 years of age or older, and 40 are juveniles. Forty-three are males and 14 are female.
In addition to Superior Court or Juvenile Court proceedings, students also will face separate school expulsion hearings. They will be placed on independent study programs to continue their studies at home pending the result of the expulsion hearings, Dyer said.
While the previous undercover operations had a strong conviction record in the courts, charges did not always stick against students in school expulsion hearings. In the Patrick Henry and Hoover stings, 108 students were arrested, and 105 ultimately expelled. Eighteen expulsions resulted from 34 arrests at Morse and Mira Mesa. Most of those expelled last year have since returned to school.
The school officials often ruled against expulsion in the Morse and Mira Mesa schools because of "weaker evidence," Dyer said in a January interview. For example, some students took money from the officers but did not deliver the narcotics, she said.
"Kids were really getting savvy," Dyer said.