Source: Post and Courier, The (Charleston, SC)
Author: Seanna Adcox Of The Post and Courier Staff
Published: Wednesday, November 12, 2003
Copyright: 2003 Evening Post Publishing Co.
Contact: [email protected]
Parents address school board, Goose Creek officials.
Moncks Corner -- Parents demanded accountability Tuesday for last week's drug raid at Stratford High School, in which police officers charged into the school with guns drawn.
Some called for the resignation of Principal George McCrackin for inviting police into Berkeley County's largest school.
"I'm angry," Sharon Smalls, parent of a 14-year-old at Stratford High, said during the Berkeley County School Board meeting. "My child was slammed to the ground with a gun to his head. These police had to be invited into Stratford. Someone has to take responsibility."
In Goose Creek, discussion of the Stratford High School incident was brief at the City Council meeting Tuesday night with only one person in the crowd speaking out against the police actions. "They way overstated the problem," said Rick Porter of Goose Creek. "It was scare tactic for the kids, and it scared them. It worked."
Parents complained that City Council and the school board met at the same time, which didn't allow them to attend both meetings. Both were regularly scheduled meetings.
About 100 people packed the school board room and eight parents spoke for 45 minutes. When tempers flared, board Chairwoman Harriet Dangerfield said Smalls had a right to be angry. Others murmured support as speakers complained.
Parent Ronald Stafford wanted assurances that something like this wouldn't happen again. He said he thinks students need trauma counselors and called for accountability.
"I hope someone is disciplined. If that includes firing, so be it," said the Rev. Richard Harkness, whose children attend schools in Moncks Corner.
"There's got to be a change" in the school's administration, said parent Katherine Lee, whose son attends Stratford.Dangerfield asked speakers not to call McCrackin, other administrators or students by name, warning that she would call them out of order.
"There's a state statute in school law that says if any administrator is aware or suspects criminal activity, he is required by law to report it to law enforcement," Superintendent Chester Floyd said before parents spoke.
"I do believe we have people who want us to do everything we can to have a safe environment. I don't believe these particular tactics are acceptable. I am sure everyone is going to learn some lessons from this," he said.
Stratford High School freshman Cedric Penn, one of the students in the hall, said officers waved a gun in his face. At first, he thought it was a terrorist attack, he said.
"They didn't have to do all that," he said.
Parents said board members were not giving them the answers they wanted.
Louis Smith called the incident "racial profiling." Dangerfield said the district is investigating all aspects of the raid. "You'll have the answers when we have the answers," she said.
Board member Frank Wright, who is black, said he was very bothered by the police action.
"The numbers did not look very good," he said. "I can tell you I'm very sorry."
Fourteen officers entered the main hallway of the school at 6:45 a.m. Nov. 5, several with guns drawn. Of the 107 students in the hall, officers restrained about a dozen in plastic handcuffs.
Goose Creek police Lt. Dave Aarons has said officers put students who failed to "respond to repeated police instruction" in "flex-cuffs," though students and their parents counter that officers restrained them for no reason.
At the City Council meeting, five people in attendance voiced support for the police and their drug raid, with most citing that the police were trained professionally to handle the situation.
"They know what they're doing," said Patty Kinard, 59, whose son is a senior at Stratford High. "I praise (Stratford Principal) George McCrackin for keeping my boy safe."
Kinard said her son was not in the hallway during the raid, but that she would not have minded if he was among those ordered on the ground by police.
"I know my boy is innocent," she said.
Mayor Michael Heitzler told the crowd that while the City Council is concerned about the incident, nothing will be done until the State Law Enforcement Division investigation is complete. Then, he said, council might consider consulting outside agencies for advice.
"We will see this thing to the end," Heitzler said.
Heitzler said he and the council have not taken a stance on the incident.
He has also asked the police chief and officers not to comment publicly on the issue, he said.
While parental anger over the raid was the presiding sentiment at the school board meeting, district officials have backed McCrackin, principal of the school since it opened in 1983.
McCrackin went to Aarons two days before the raid with suspicions of drug activity, supported by student information and four days of surveillance video, both said.
The officers deployed after McCrackin signaled that the suspected students had taken their normal positions, Aarons said.
A police dog smelled drug residue on 12 backpacks, but officers found no drugs and made no arrests. Aarons said last week that he suspected someone tipped off the students by cell phone and that officers drew guns for safety reasons because weapons often accompany drugs and large amounts of money.
Floyd said at Monday's press conference that if police truly had suspected students had weapons, then he hoped officers would have isolate those students outside, not inside the school with other students.
Floyd said neither McCrackin nor any district official knew police would come in with guns drawn.
Though Aarons has stressed that not all officers came in with guns, Floyd said even one gun would draw concern.
"I don't want parents and students to worry whether they will face that sort of thing on any given morning, " he said.
District officials repeatedly have declined to take an official position on whether police acted correctly.
Floyd reminded parents Tuesday that the State Law Enforcement Division is investigating the police, not the district.
Parents felt black students had been unfairly targeted by the raid. About 70 percent of the 107 students in the hall were black, McCrackin has said.
By that morning hour, two buses from predominately black neighborhoods have dropped students at the school, he said.
About 22 percent of the school's nearly 2,700 students are black, said Dave Barrow, the district's high schools supervisor. No one intentionally targeted any group, Floyd said.
The parents of a handful of students involved in the raid have called the South Carolina branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said chapter president Dayna Balcome.
She said she plans to assist representatives of the Connecticut-based ACLU Drug Policy Litigation Project, who will travel to Goose Creek this week to investigate whether the group should sue.
Members of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) also plan to come to Goose Creek this week to meet with students and parents, and to organize a public forum. More than 200 college chapters make up the group.
Phillip Caston of The Post and Courier staff contributed to this report.
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