Dogged Pursuit : Few Drugs Found in First-Ever Raids at Downey, Warren Highs

Times Staff Writer

The blond Downey High School student could scarcely believe her magenta-shadowed eyes.

As she glanced out her classroom door she saw police officers jogging by, in pursuit of a German shepherd that was sniffing at student lockers.

"Get back in class," ordered Vice Principal Gary Ratzke, as he put his walkie-talkie to his ear.

It was 8 a.m. Friday, and at Downey High School and Warren High School, police and school officials were staging the first-ever drug raids in the history of the Downey Unified School District.

Blue Thunder, the narcotic-sniffing police dog, made several passes in front of the lockers before he stopped by one in particular. The dog looked quizzically at his handler, Sgt. H. C. (Jake) Jahelka of the Sheriff's Department.

"What is it?" Jahelka asked. Blue looked at the officer, looked back at the locker and then scratched it affirmatively with his paw.

"This one," Jahelka said to Ratzke, rapping the locker with his knuckles, as he left to chase the eager Blue to another set of lockers.

Ratzke got on his walkie-talkie, and minutes later, an embarrassed-looking girl with two-tone hair was led by school officials to her locker and asked to open it. Inside, the officials found books and a lunch, but no drugs.

Simultaneous Raids

With the aid of dogs and trainers on loan from the Sheriff's Department, Downey police and school officials on Friday searched lockers used by 4,300 high school students. The simultaneous raids were done at the request of school officials, who said that they suspected drugs were being kept on the two campuses. After searching the lockers, police and school officials also checked out student cars in both high school parking lots.

By the time the raids were completed, police and school officials found only a small amount of marijuana residue in an unoccupied gym locker at Downey High. At Warren High, police and school officials found no drugs in the lockers, but in three student cars, discovered less than two ounces of marijuana, two six-packs of beer and a half-gallon of wine.

Three Warren High students were arrested on suspicion of possession of drugs and alcohol, police said. Two of the students, both 18, whose names police withheld, are to face misdemeanor charges May 22 in Downey Municipal Court. The third, who is a juvenile and will not be charged, was released to the custody of her parents, police said.

All three students were given five-day suspensions and face expulsion hearings, Warren High School officials said.

Despite the minimal findings, police officers and school officials said they were satisfied with the raids, with school officials adding that they would not hesitate to call in the dogs again.

"I think it was a success," Downey Police Chief Bill Martin said. "Had we gone in there and found that half the kids were loaded, it would have been a failure.

"What this tells me is not that our campus is free of narcotics, but that our campus is not as bad as we thought."

Dogs Sniffed Drugs

At the two high schools, more than 30 lockers were opened because police dogs sniffed drugs, Martin said. He claimed that the dogs' sense of smell is so acute that they would have detected drugs if any had been in the lockers during the past few days.

"Because we found nothing in the lockers at the time we opened them doesn't mean the dogs were wrong," the chief said, adding, "There probably had been some drugs in there at some point."

Schools Supt. Manuel Gallegos, who requested the raids, maintained that they had a positive effect on students and the community.

"We had reason to believe that students were bringing contraband on the campus," Gallegos said, adding that students who had been apprehended for possession of drugs had told administrators that drugs could easily be obtained on campus.

"The end result (of the raids) is we can say to the community we didn't find anything and this is not a hotbed of drugs," Gallegos said. "I think it's good, and the students feel proud."

Expulsion Hearings Held

In the Downey Unified School District this school year, 55 students have faced expulsion hearings for drug-related charges, 35 of which involved high school students, Gallegos said. Most of the hearings resulted in students being expelled for possessing or distributing drugs, the superintendent said.

At Warren High, where students have formed a local chapter of Students Against Drunk Drivers, drugs and alcohol have become an increasing concern, school officials said.

"Under no circumstances are we going to tolerate drugs on this campus," Principal Bill Spruston said.

"I think the kids we would really like to catch, the ones who are dealing, are a little more sophisticated," he said, adding that the dealers probably keep their drugs off campus.

At Downey High, where the PTA is raising $8,000 to bring anti-drug speaker and former undercover narcotics officer David Toma to campus next Tuesday, Principal Moe Chavez said of the raids, "It was time to do something."

'We Impressed Them'

"From the point of view of catching people, we weren't successful, but from the point of view of letting the kids know that we won't tolerate drugs, we impressed them," Chavez said.

An unscientific poll of 10 Downey High School students this week showed that eight supported the raids, one was opposed and one was undecided.

"I'm not worried about it--I've got nothing to do with drugs. I've got nothing to hide," said junior Shawn Austin, 18.

Austin and classmate Fred Gonzalez, 18, agreed that the only people who were concerned about further raids at the school were "stoners," or students who regularly used drugs.

"They (Downey police) have every right to search our lockers to keep it (drugs) from spreading," Gonzalez said.

Another student who supported the administration was sophomore Juanita Valencia, 15, who said, "I think drugs are really awful."

The only student who opposed the raids was freshman Tom Lentz, who said the raids were a "bummer."

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