Charging that "naive" high school students are being pressured into obtaining drugs for undercover police officers, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit Thursday to allow students facing drug-related expulsions to present evidence that they were entrapped.
The lawsuit challenges what the ACLU says is the Los Angeles Unified School District's policy of automatically expelling students found to have committed drug offenses without taking into consideration that students may have obtained narcotics to satisfy the repeated demands of an on-campus police officer.
"Officers have in certain instances cajoled, pressured and repeatedly requested students to obtain narcotics for them, even when students initially state that they cannot or will not obtain and do not know where to obtain the narcotics," the ACLU said in its lawsuit against the school district, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
As a result, say attorneys for the ACLU and the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, some students with no history of discipline problems are being deprived of their right to complete their education.
The lawsuit stems from a 12-year-old program launched by the Los Angeles Police Department in which young undercover agents register as students at area high schools, making an estimated 150 to 250 drug-related arrests at the end of each semester, according to police.
The ACLU several years ago unsuccessfully challenged the program as a violation of students' constitutional rights. The new lawsuit does not attack the program itself but simply school policies that do not allow students to present entrapment as a defense against expulsion, ACLU attorney Catherine Leslie said.
The suit attacks a school district policy adopted in 1985 that requires expulsion review committees to expel students who are caught selling drugs on campus, leaving no room for argument that a student may have been induced to commit the offense by a police officer.
School district spokesman Bill Rivera conceded that the policy "limited the flexibility" of principals and review committees to dismiss expulsion proceedings in drug cases. But students who feel they have been treated unfairly can still appeal their expulsion to the school board, and they can present entrapment as a defense, he said.
"If four board members were convinced that entrapment was an issue, they could vote it down," he said. Rivera said he could not recall whether the board had ever reversed the recommendations of its review committees on an expulsion matter.
Rivera defended the undercover program as an "effective" one. "We think it perhaps has helped to curb the sale of drugs on campus," he said.
A Police Department spokesman said undercover officers undergo an intensive training program, which includes "a thorough indoctrination" on how to avoid entrapment, before going into the schools.
Cmdr. William Booth said the purpose of the program "is not to cajole or introduce or encourage students to get involved in the criminal activity of peddling dope. Our purpose is to detect and arrest dope peddlers, whether they're students or not."