Drug Sweep at South Carolina High School Sparks Investigation

From Associated Press

State police are investigating a drug sweep in which more than a dozen local officers charged into a crowded high school hallway with their guns drawn and handcuffed students.

No drugs or weapons were found during the sweep, and there were no drug-related arrests.

Videotape from Stratford High School surveillance cameras on Wednesday shows dozens of students, some of them handcuffed, sitting on a hallway floor against the walls as police officers watch them with guns drawn and police dogs sniff backpacks and bags strewn across the hall.

"I'm absolutely outraged," said Danny Partin, whose stepson attends Stratford. "This is supposed to be a free country, not a police state."

Prosecutor Ralph Hoisington told the Charleston Post & Courier on Saturday that he asked the State Law Enforcement Division on Friday to look into possible police misconduct.

"I don't think there's anything wrong at all with law enforcement addressing a problem in a high school, but I have serious concerns about the need for restraining students and drawing weapons," Hoisington said. "I don't want to send my child to a school and find out guns are drawn on them."

Investigators should have called suspected students to the principal's office to check their bags for drugs if they believed drug-dealing was going on, said Graham Boyd, director of the drug policy project for the American Civil Liberties Union.

"You absolutely cannot bring police with guns drawn into a school," Boyd said. He called the search illegal.

Stratford Principal George McCrackin said that he had talked to police about what he called a growing drug problem at the school and that the police responded.

The students didn't know what was happening when the officers rushed in, student Maurice Harris Jr. told a television interviewer Saturday.

"I was frightened because they had guns in their hands," Harris said. "I thought one of the guns was going to go off and shoot or kill somebody, so I just got down to my knees and covered my head for protection."

Goose Creek Police Lt. Dave Aarons said the guns were drawn as "a matter of officer safety."

"I don't think it was an overreaction," he said. "Anytime you have qualified information regarding drugs and large amounts of money, there's a reasonable assumption weapons are involved."

The officers handcuffed students who failed to "respond to repeated police instruction," Aarons said.

The only charge stemming from the raid involved a ninth-grader who was cited for allegedly filing a false police report, saying an officer shoved her to the ground during the search, Aarons said. McCrackin said he, school officials and the girl's parent reviewed video surveillance tapes and determined the girl wasn't in the hall at the time.

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