Thursday, January 26, 2012

Judge tosses out city councilman's lawsuit against Springfield School District

A federal judge has tossed out Springfield City Councilman Doug Burlison's lawsuit against the Springfield School District.

In his opinion,the judge said Burlison (pictured) had no case against Springfield school officials, whom Burlison said violated his son's constitutional rights by searching a backpack that had been left in a classroom during a visit by a drug dog and violated his daughter's rights by not allowing her into the school building while the drug dog was being used.

The judge indicated that Burlison could not prove that anyone had opened his son's backpack and could not prove that his or his family's rights had been violated by any of the defendants in the case.

This description of the lawsuit was given in the September 27, 2010, Turner Report:

The action, filed by Springfield City Councilman Doug Burlison, his wife Melony and his stepson and stepdaughter, both Central High School students, alleges students were told to leave their third hour classroom and ordered ot leave all their belongings in their classrooms. While they were out of the rooms, the lawsuit says, officers and drug dogs went through the belongings.

Defendants in the lawsuit, in addition to Springfield Public Schools, include Superintendent Norm Ritter, Central High School Principal Ron Snodgrass, and Greene County Sheriff James Arnott.

Following is the description of the drill from the lawsuit:

On or about Thursday April 22, 2010, C.M., (Burlison's stepson) then a freshman at Central High School, was in his third period classroom when an announcement was made over the school’s public address system by Defendant Snodgrass.

Defendant Snodgrass announced that the school was going into “lockdown” and that students may not leave their classrooms.

At that time, deputies of the Greene County Sheriff’s Office were present at Central High School along with dogs.

On information and belief, the deputies of the Greene County Sheriff’s Office were present at Central High School with the knowledge, consent and invitation of Defendants SPS, Snodgrass and Ridder, and the activities and conduct of the deputies of the Greene County Sheriff’s Office were engaged in at the request of and with the knowledge of Defendants SPS, Snodgrass and Ridder.

About fifteen minutes after Defendant Snodgrass’s announcement, deputies of the Greene County Sheriff’s Office, with their dogs, entered C.M.’s classroom. The deputies ordered students and teachers to leave the room. Students were told not to take any possessions or effects, such as backpacks, notebooks and purses, with them but to leave them in the classroom.

C.M. did as instructed, leaving his possessions in the classroom and going out into the adjoining hallway to wait. C.M. could not see into the classroom.

After approximately ten minutes, the law enforcement officers left the classroom and C.M. and his classmates returned to the room.

The condition of the effects C.M. observed when he reentered the classroom made it clear to him that the students’ effects had been searched by the law enforcement officials. Backpacks and other student belongings had been moved around, zippers had been unzipped and saliva on the effects indicated that the dogs had come in contact with the students’ belongings and effects.

In particular, C.M. observed that although all the zippers on his backpack were shut when he left the room, when he returned the zippers on his backpack were open and items within the backpack had been moved. At least three other students in his third period class also pointed out that their effects, i.e., purses and backpacks, had been moved and the students observed signs indicating that police had rummaged through their belongings.

C.M. observed that the law enforcement officers and their dogs then moved on to another classroom. Plaintiffs allege, on information and belief, that the law enforcement officers engaged in the same activities in most, if not all, of the other classrooms at the school.

Defendant Snodgrass extended the time for third period that day so that the deputies of the Greene County Sheriff’s Office could complete searches of the student effects and classrooms at Central High School.

At about 11:00 a.m., Defendant Snodgrass announced to students that they should move to their fourth period class.

Plaintiffs allege, on information and a belief, that in conjunction with the search of students’ effects in classrooms, law enforcement officers guided dogs through the hallways of Central High School, allowing the dogs to examine lockers and students throughout the school. If a dog alerted on a student, police seized the student and conducted a full search of the student’s person and effects.

Burlison's stepdaughter arrived at the school during third hour, but was not allowed to enter the building, until fourth hour, the lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit, Ridder indicated the search was not prompted by any incident, but was standard procedure at Central and other Springfield schools.

After Burlison spoke at a school board meeting and board members did not offer any response, he brought his action, which charges the school officials and the sheriff with violating the students' Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure, as well as Missouri state statutes.

The Burlisons are represented by Springfield attorney Jason Umbarger, whom court documents indicate is working with the conservative Rutherford Institute.

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