Undercover Cops Bust Autistic High Schooler, 21 Others in Drug Sting

Did police go too far in Drug Bust?

Parents Doug and Catherine Snodgrass, of Temecula, California, say their 17-year-old son’s high school failed to protect him from a drug sting that “intentionally targeted and discriminated against him.” They are suing Chaparral High School for allowing an undercover cop from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department to befriend and arrest their son for $20 worth of marijuana.

At the beginning of the school year, a 22-year-old undercover officer named “Daniel” made friends with the 17-year-old student who has been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome (a form of autism), bipolar disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, and other anxiety disorders. “Daniel” sent the student more than 60 text messages.

“Daniel” first asked the student if he would sell his prescription medication. When the student refused, the undercover officer repeatedly asked the student to find him $20 worth of marijuana. It took more than three weeks for the student to procure one joint for “Daniel,” at which point he was asked for another and then arrested in December 2012.

In January, a juvenile court ruled that the Snodgrass’ son would perform 20 hours of community service for “no finding of guilt” based on “extenuating circumstances.” However, the Snodgrass’ say their son’s school still tried to expel him repeatedly. Because of missed school, he will not be able to graduate on time. The judge ultimately ruled that the student could not be expelled, either.

Twenty-one other students were arrested from a total of three high schools. Undercover police officers in two high schools befriended students and eventually arrested them, finding various drugs such as marijuana, LSD, and cocaine. One student named Justin Laboy was arrested after getting marijuana for a 25-year-old female undercover officer he developed a crush on. His felony arrest could prevent him from realizing his plan to join the military.

Tony Newman is the director of media relations for the Drug Policy Alliance, and he states, “We often hear that we need to fight the drug war to protect the kids. As these despicable examples show, more often the drug war is ruining young peoples’ lives and doing way more harm than good.” He thinks stings like these are equivalent to entrapment.

Stephen Downing is a retired LAPD Deputy Chief of Police and a current member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and he feels stings like this are “egregious.” Downing states, “The less fortunate are always targeted.”

How are undercover operations that arrest high school students for $20 worth of marijuana helping our communities? Are they really getting dangerous criminals off the street by charging honors students with felonies?

Cases like this bring big questions against the “war on drugs,” as well as drug addiction, into the spotlight. Should young people – especially those still in high school – be charged with drug-related crimes for what is often considered “normal teen behavior?” For kids with drug problems that need to be addressed, will criminal convictions do anything to help them?

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