Riverside County, CA — Simply put, the War on Drugs is a war on people. One of the more despicable ways in which it manifests is the manipulation of vulnerable school kids by undercover cops. These “drug stings,” better known as entrapment, typically prey on special needs students who have a hard time making friends.
The case of Jesse Snodgrass, a student at Chaparral High School with autism, bipolar disorder and social problems, recently gained attention again when a Riverside County Superior Court Judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Jesse’s family against the school district.
“The suit alleged that the Temecula Valley Unified School District had breached its mandatory duties by allowing a deputy from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department to manipulate Snodgrass – a friendless student who had bipolar disorder, trouble keeping up with conversations and a history of being bullied – as part of an undercover drug sting.”
The undercover cop, named “Dan,” introduced himself to Jesse on the first day of school and befriended him during graphics art class. After committing this first act of deceit—which itself would violate the moral code of most people—“Dan” gave Jesse $20 and badgered him repeatedly to find a bit of weed.
Having never come in contact with marijuana before, Jessie had no idea where to find the illegal plant. He was forced to dangerously seek it out on the streets from a homeless man – just so he could appease his ‘friend,’ who would later turn on him and ruin his life.
Weeks later, after Jesse risked his life for his new friend, a swarm of officers arrested him and 21 other students at three high schools, charging them with felonies for possession and sale of a controlled substance.
It’s bad enough that cops would stoop to such lowly means to manufacture arrests in the drug war, but when schools are complicit in this entrapment of its students, the stench of immorality becomes unbearable.
An administrative law judge overturned Jesse’s expulsion from school because the district had left Jesse “to fend for himself, anxious and alone, against an undercover police officer.” The judge also ruled that Jesse “has overwhelmingly demonstrated that his actions were a manifestation of his disability.”
Despite this finding of a fellow judge, the County Superior Judge did not see anything wrong with the school district watching as an undercover cop took advantage of an autistic, bipolar kid, turning him into a felon.
Judge Raquel Marquez said Temecula Valley Unified School District was immune from liability “because they were cooperating with police and because California Government Code 820.2 protects public employees who are making routine policy decisions.”
This shielding of officials sounds an awful lot like the Blue Privilege granted to cops in cases of brutality and murder.
Fortunately, in this case, the power of public outcry was able to overcome the lack of government accountability. With the help of groups such as the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), the tale of Jesse Snodgrass was able to elicit change in the system.
“The Snodgrass lawsuit provided a rare look at the workings of an undercover high school drug sting and launched a barrage of negative publicity about Operation Glasshouse, including a 2014 Rolling Stone magazine piece titled “The Entrapment of Jesse Snodgrass,” and a video by the Vice Media group titled “The War on Kids.”
In March 2014, the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group, sent a letter to all school districts in Riverside County alerting officials to recent school drug stings, the alleged targeting of special needs students and a California Department of Education investigation into Temecula Valley Unified School District’s process for expelling students in special education.”
As a result of these campaigns, Riverside and San Bernardino counties have stopped school drug stings for the past two years. They follow the Los Angeles Unified School District, which stopped undercover drug stings in 2005 after they were similarly exposed for entrapping defenseless, special needs kids instead of catching actual drug dealers.
While the judge’s ruling against Jesse Snodgrass is unfortunate, there is redemption in the fact that drug stings have stopped at schools in these counties. The campaign of protest, the embarrassment of having their depraved scheme exposed, is more powerful than the myth of so-called government accountability.
The hope is that the Superior Judge’s ruling does not embolden these school districts to take up their war on kids again.