Fairfield – The City of Fairfield and ten families adopted a settlement agreement yesterday providing for comprehensive new policies to address police conduct on school campuses. This agreement resolved a March 2, 2007 incident when the Fairfield police came onto the campus of Rodriguez High School (RHS) and rounded-up a group of innocent students, accusing them of being gang members. Today, pursuant to the agreement, the Fairfield Police Chief and the RHS Principal sent an open letter to the RHS community clearing the reputations of the targeted students of any wrongdoing.
“We applaud the police department for working cooperatively with the families to address this specific incident and to establish clear policies to protect students’ rights in the future,” said Juniper Lesnik, attorney at the ACLU of Northern California.
On March 2, the Student Resource Officer (SRO) at Rodriguez High School and members of the Fairfield Police Department’s Gang Unit approached two groups of Latino students at lunch, lined them up in front of their peers, accused them of being gang members, and photographed them. “It was embarrassing,” said sophomore, Rosa Mares, “I felt afraid to go to school after that.”
“We didn’t do anything wrong,” added Victor Lopez, another sophomore who was among those photographed. “I was just talking to my friends. The police shouldn’t assume we’re gang members just because we’re Latino and wearing certain colors. Lots of kids were wearing the same thing we were on that day and nothing happened to them.”
The families immediately demanded an explanation from the school and the police department. After officials provided an inadequate response, the parents contacted the ACLU of Northern California. The negotiations that followed helped the parents secure today’s settlement, which includes the destruction of all of the photographs and information collected on that day, improved policies to create a safe educational environment at school, and an open letter to all RHS students clearing the targeted students of any wrongdoing.
In the letter, Police Chief Kenton Rainey and Principal Toni Taylor announce that they have no information that any of the students targeted on March 2 are gang members and that none of the students have criminal records or are the subject of any criminal investigation. The letter also informs the RHS community that new policies are being adopted in consultation with the parents to protect student rights on campus in the future.
Delia Cantu, a parent of one of the affected children, said “I am heartened that the Police Department decided to work with us to address our concerns. This has been very stressful for us as families but we are pleased that it has reached a successful outcome. I hope my son’s experience at school will return to normal now.”
The parents secured this comprehensive resolution to benefit all Fairfield families instead of taking their claims to court for damages. “We did this because our kids were so upset over what happened, said mother Cari Stanhope. “We hope that in reaching this agreement we’ve helped make sure this won’t happen to other children.” The agreement reached today creates clear standards for when the police can and cannot photograph, search, or question students on school campuses or at school functions. All Fairfield police officers will be trained in these new policies and the Police Department and School District will provide educational material to students regarding their rights in interacting with the police.
“Many schools in California now have full-time officers and most lack policies to adequately protect students’ rights with the police,” said Lesnik. “We are pleased that the City of Fairfield has taken this opportunity to improve relationships between students and police on campus so that schools can be a safe and welcoming place for all.”
Settlement Agreement on Fairfield Police Department Policies (June 6, 2007)