Source: Post and Courier, The (Charleston, SC)
Author: Tony Bartelme Of The Post and Courier Staff
Published: Saturday, December 13, 2003
Copyright: 2003 Evening Post Publishing Co.
Contact: [email protected]
Berkeley County school officials are refusing to release surveillance camera recordings from the Stratford High School drug sweep, footage that Solicitor Ralph Hoisington said Friday shows police pointing guns directly at students and handcuffing them in a stairwell for no apparent
reason. The district's refusal to release the information to the public is a reversal of its position immediately after the raid.
At that time, it allowed WCSC-Channel 5 to record images from several of the roughly 70 cameras throughout the school. The district also allowed The Post and Courier to view some surveillance recordings.
The images recorded by Channel 5, which showed officers bursting into a hallway with guns drawn, triggered national attention after they were broadcast and published.
Now, Berkeley County school officials are refusing to release images from certain cameras that were never shown to reporters but were provided to State Law Enforcement Division investigators reviewing the raid.
The images may shed light on questions still lingering six weeks after the controversial search.
For example, in its official report of the raid, Goose Creek police said officers restrained 10 to 12 students "solely due to the fact that they failed to comply with officer instructions."
But footage from "camera 11," located in a stairwell, shows a group of students holding their hands behind their heads and lying on the ground, said Hoisington, who has seen the surveillance video. "They were being compliant."
The footage then shows an officer "picking up about six of them, strapping them and then putting them back down in the same position they were," Hoisington said.
Release of the surveillance footage also could help settle whether Goose Creek police actually pointed guns at students.
Images initially released to the public from a surveillance camera in the main hall appear to show officers pointing guns at students when they first entered the hall. Some have questioned whether the camera's angle gave a distorted view of how officers actually carried their guns.
But Hoisington said footage from another camera in an area near vending machines shows otherwise.
"When the officers come in on this, they are literally pointing straight at students, sweeping the gun across them, two different officers."
In its report, Goose Creek police said, "several officers unholstered their weapons and positioned them at the low ready position. This was done as more of a defensive precaution ..., primarily due to the unfortunate fact that drugs and money often mean that there is a real propensity for weapon involvement."
Hoisington said the school district supplied the footage from these cameras and others to SLED. He recently sent SLED's findings to the S.C. Attorney General and U.S. Justice Department. He declined to prosecute the case, citing a conflict of interest.
Earlier this week, The Post and Courier asked the Berkeley County School District for access to all footage delivered to SLED, including images from the camera aimed at the stairwell.
In a letter Friday, the district declined to release the materials.
Doing so would violate the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which generally prohibits the district from releasing personally identifiable information about students, and the state Freedom of Information Act, the district's letter said.
The district cited language in the state act that says certain information can be withheld if information is "of a personal nature" and that disclosure would "constitute unreasonable invasion of personal privacy."
It also cited a state statute defining education records to include videotape with personally identifiable characteristics of students.
Hoisington questioned why district officials are declining to release the images now when they released other tapes immediately after the incident. "It's already out there," he said of images of the search.
Police and school officials decided to sweep through the school after seeing suspicious activity on the school's video cameras over several mornings. More than 107 students were detained during the search. Using a drug-sniffing dog, officers and school officials searched students' belongings. No drugs were found.
A couple of weeks after the raid, a group of more than 100 teachers and students rallied outside Stratford High in support of principal George McCrackin.
A group of students and parents, meanwhile, are suing school and district officials, saying their constitutional rights were violated.
Tony Bartelme is a special assignments reporter.
Note: Officials cite federal, state laws
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