San Francisco – The ACLU of Northern California filed a class action lawsuit today challenging the unlawful round up of approximately 60 students at James Logan High School in Union City on February 22, 2002. The students were illegally rounded up, detained for up to two hours, searched, interrogated and photographed by Union City police officers and school officials. The information gathered from the students apparently was entered into a “gang database” maintained by the Union City Police Department. The lawsuit is filed on behalf of three students.
“These high school students, most of them Latino or Asian, were subjected to the most humiliating kind of treatment: they were rounded up, patted down, forced to let officials search their backpacks and purses, and then interrogated and photographed by the police so that they could be added to a gang database, when there was no justification for any of these actions,” says Ann Brick, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “This kind of mass round up is a blatant violation of the students’ Fourth Amendment rights.”
One of the plaintiffs, Brian Benitez, was walking through the corridors with two friends during lunch period when he was stopped by a Union City police officer and a school Principal and ordered to follow them. “I was just going to get lunch when I was stopped and told that I had to follow the police officer. I protested that I had not done anything wrong, but I was warned that if I didn’t follow them they would force me. I was afraid, so I went.” Now Benitez and the other students are worried about having their photographs in a police “gang database.” “Does this mean that I will be stopped again?” asks Benitez.
“I think it is very disturbing when our kids are treated like this,” said Ron Prentice, a parent of one of the plaintiffs. “These kids are going to school to learn, but the school is teaching them the wrong lesson when it rounds kids up who are simply going to class or eating lunch.” Prentice’s 15-year-old-daughter, Jessica Prentice, was suspended for wearing red. “ Red is one of my favorite colors and it’s also the school color – it was unfair for the school to single me out and tell me that I can’t wear red when other students can.”
The students are suing on behalf of all students at Logan High School who were included in the round up on February 22, 2002,as well as on behalf of students who might be subjected to similar treatment in the future.
The lawsuit is seeking a permanent injunction against any future detentions, searches, seizures, interrogations and photographing of students without probable cause or reasonable suspicion and orders the officials to expunge any records, files and/or databases containing information gathered on February 22, 2002. It also asks the court to issue an order requiring the Union City police to return the photographs they took that day.
Plaintiff Victor Munoz, was playing cards with friends at a table outside the school building when one of the school administrators and police officers ordered him, his friends and the entire group of students in the area, to follow them inside the building.
“I was taken to a classroom with mostly Latino students where I was searched and some of my drawings were thrown away. They also took away my blue and yellow highlighters that I use for studying.”
“My son was not rounded up because he was accused of doing something wrong; he was rounded up because of who he is—a Latino kid—and where he was—having lunch with other Latino kids. That’s discrimination,” said Angela Munoz.
As a result of the round up, a group of parents and community members mobilized to prevent school sweeps and racial profiling from happening again at Logan High School or in the community.
“Families for Youth Rights was started to fight the profiling, harassment and photographing of youth by Logan High School and by the Union City Police Department,” said Maricela Gutiérrez, Director of School-Based Health Services at Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center and one of the founders of the group. “We view this lawsuit as an opportunity for Logan High administrators and Union City Police to recognize and guarantee the right of youth to an education free of punitive treatment and discrimination.”
“School officials and the police have an obligation to respect students’ constitutional rights,” said John Hansen, attorney with Nossaman, Guthner, Knox & Elliott, LLP who is working with the ACLU on a pro bono basis in representing the students. “ We hope that by bringing this lawsuit we can prevent the repetition of this shameful and illegal incident.”