The ACLU of Southern California on Thursday filed a lawsuit against Glendale Unified administrators and three law enforcement agencies, alleging that officers illegally detained, searched and interrogated roughly 55 Latino high school students in what they called “a textbook case of racial profiling.”
The Hoover High School students, who were allegedly rounded up at lunch on Sept. 24, 2010, and detained for at least an hour in two separate classrooms, were intimidated and frisked by Glendale and Los Angeles police officers, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.
At a news conference Thursday in South Glendale, ACLU representatives said the students were asked for personal information, including addresses and telephone numbers, interrogated about any scars, tattoos and gang affiliations, and “repeatedly threatened” by police.
Students subjected to the searches called the experience terrifying.
“I told my mom I didn’t want to go back to school,” said Karen Lopez, 16, now a junior at Hoover High. “It was just scary.”
In addition to a handful of school district officials, the lawsuit, filed on behalf of several Hoover High School families, names the Los Angeles and Glendale police departments and the L.A. County Probation Department and seeks unspecified damages.
“The school officials and police had no evidence that the students were doing anything illegal or breaking any school rules at the times they were rounded up,” ACLU attorney David Sapp said. “The facts in this case also make it clear that these students were targeted because they are Latino.”
Glendale Unified spokesman Steven Frasher defended the operation, describing it as an educational effort to deter students from falling into gangs.
“The fact of the matter is, student safety is our utmost concern at all times,” Frasher said. “The allegation of racial profiling is ridiculous. We are going to try and do all we can to protect any student we fear is going to be at risk for being sucked into a criminal lifestyle.”
Representatives for the Glendale and Los Angeles police departments did not respond to requests for comment, nor did the county probation department.
The ACLU in March filed claims with Glendale Unified on behalf of several of the targeted students, seeking $25,000 each for damages, including extreme anxiety and emotional distress, exacerbating asthma and humiliation. The school board voted to reject those claims in May.
Frasher said the operation was conducted after Hoover High School officials and probation officers noticed gang activity among students who sat in a specific area on campus during non-class time.
Some incoming students, Frasher said, “seemed to be getting sucked into some activities, or looking up to kids who were on probation.”
School and law enforcement officials wanted to give those students a taste of where gang activity can lead, Frasher said, adding that relationships and grades at Hoover High School improved after the effort.
In addition to unspecified financial damages, the students and their attorneys are demanding that all information collected during the Hoover operation be destroyed, and that the district and law enforcement agencies promise that it will never happen again.
“It is not illegal to be a Latino teenager,” Sapp said. “This is a textbook case of racial profiling, and it is all the more offensive because they terrorized and threatened students while they were detained.”