Questions raised about whether Goose Creek police followed rules on using drug dogs - - Columbia, South Carolina

Questions raised about whether Goose Creek police followed rules on using drug dogs

(Charleston-AP) Dec. 7, 2003 - Questions are being raised about whether the Goose Creek Police Department followed its own rules on using drug dogs in its guns-drawn raid at Stratford High School last month.

The department's procedure states canines can enter and conduct an illegal narcotics detection only after the on-scene supervisor has cleared the area of all personnel.

A video tape the police department released shows a police dog passing close by students who had been forced to kneel on the floor. It also shows an officer lecturing students.

Jim Watson, secretary of the North American Police Work Dog Association, says Goose Creek's canine unit is certified. Watson won't comment on the Stratford search, which found no drugs. Police checked 107 students, but none was arrested. Some students say they saw classmates running from campus, dumping drugs during the raid.

In a lawsuit filed Friday, students say they felt frightened as the dog passed by and they say the dog was unruly and appeared to be unresponsive to commands.

Seventeen Stratford High School students are suing the city of Goose Creek and the Berkeley County school district. They say police and school officials terrorized them in a November 5th drug raid.

The lawsuit was filed Friday in federal court. The suit charges the students' constitutional rights had been violated. It also levels charges of assault, battery and false arrest.

The defendants named in the lawsuit, filed in US District Court in Charleston, include: Stratford High School principal George McCrackin; Berkeley County school superintendent Chester Floyd; Goose Creek police Chief Harvey Becker; and Goose Creek police Lt. Dave Aarons.

The suit also names the city of Goose Creek, its police department and the Berkeley County School District as defendants.

School officials declined to comment on the details of the lawsuit but expressed regret about the incident.

Charleston County Prosecutor Ralph Hoisington announced Thursday he was turning information he had collected on the Goose Creek Police Department's raid over to South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster. Hoisington is also the prosecutor for Berkeley County where Stratford High is located.

Hoisington is asking McMaster to review the investigation and make an independent determination as to whether state criminal violations warranting prosecution took place.

Hoisington also asked the State Law Enforcement Division to turn the results of its investigation over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Attorney's office to see if any federal criminal violations occurred. McMaster's office says it is common for solicitors to refer cases to the attorney general's office, especially when it involves law enforcement.

The FBI has already begun an investigation into whether any civil rights were violated in the drug sweep. They will send reports to the Justice Department's civil rights division, which will decide whether there needs to be a major investigation.

The November 5th search at Stratford High School attracted national media attention and is the subject of a 200-page report by the State Law Enforcement Division. A videotape of the search received widespread national attention.

Goose Creek Police Department Lt. Dave Aarons said, only days after the raid, that having guns drawn is a matter of officer safety, because weapons often accompany drug dealing. School officials and police said the raid was an example of zero tolerance. They point to at least four cases of students bringing drugs to school.

Updated 10:55pm by Eva Pilgrim

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