Parents Claim Calif. School District Failed to Protect Autistic Son in Drug Sting

By Lawrence Dechant

May 9, 2013 7:00am

The parents of a Temecula, Calif., high school student filed a claim against the Temecula Valley Unified School District for unspecified damages, alleging the district administrators did not protect their special-needs son but instead “participated with local authorities in an undercover drug sting that intentionally targeted and discriminated against their son.”

“It is shattering to our son. I don’t know how he will ever be able to trust friends again,” Doug Snodgrass, the father of the student, told ABCNews.com “He is changed for life by this.”

Snodgrass said his 17-year-old son, whose name has been withheld at the request of his parents, transferred to Chaparral High School, a public high school in Temecula, for his senior year. District discipline records from his previous school, Temecula Valley High School, “showed 10 discipline referrals”  between August 2011 and May 2012, according to court records, but Snodgrass said the reason for the transfer was the family’s move to a different section of Temecula.

 He was placed into an art class at Chaparral where he met Daniel, who befriended him.  Not having any friends, his father said, his son quickly latched on to Daniel.

Snodgrass’ son began texting round the clock with his new friend, which at first thrilled his parents, happy that their son had made a new friend, Snodgrass said.

What they didn’t know was that Daniel was an undercover police officer, who the family claims would pressure their son to procure drugs.

“Our son was a new kid in August, and this undercover cop befriended him,”  Snodgrass said. On the second day of school, Snodgrass said, Daniel asked the boy to buy drugs. “He asked my son if he could find marijuana for $20,” Snodgrass said. ”Three weeks later my son was able to bring back a half joint he received from a homeless guy.”

Later, Snodgrass said, “he asked to purchase my son’s prescription medication, but our son refused.”

It took the 17-year-old three weeks to procure a half joint of marijuana, according to court documents filed later in Riverside County juvenile court. After he was pressed again by the police officer, the student retrieved another joint for $20, from another homeless man, the documents said.

“During that time, he received more than 60 text messages from this undercover officer,” Snodgrass said. “Our son has a real problem reading social cues and social inferences because of his various disabilities. It would’ve been hard for him to figure to out that he was talking to an undercover officer.”

Snodgrass said his son had been diagnosed with autism, bipolar disorder, Tourette’s syndrome  and various anxiety disorders.

Temecula police arrested Snodgrass’ son, along with 21 other students, on Dec. 11. Snodgrass told ABC News that his son was interrogated, booked and held for two days without having contact with his parents.

“Our son went to school the morning of Dec. 11 and he didn’t show up at home after school, because he was arrested in his classroom,” Snodgrass said. “Police went into his classroom armed, and handcuffed our son. We were not notified by anyone, and he was held for two days, and we were not able to see him,” although he said they got his medication to him the first night he was in detention through a nurse.

The Temecula Police Department did not return phone calls from ABC News seeking comment.

In January, the juvenile court judge determined there were extenuating circumstances and ruled that Snodgrass’ son could do informal probation and 20 hours of community service, which would ultimately lead to a “no finding of guilt.”  The court allowed the student to return to school in March, however, Snodgrass said the school has continued to “bully” his son.

According to the claim filed on April 26 against the school district, Snodgrass’ son was suspended for more than 10 days, forced to be educated at home and subjected to the threat of expulsion.

“Our son was cleared of the criminal charge, but the school continued to try and expel him,” Snodgrass said.

Snodgrass said after a due process hearing, the judge “reversed the process of expulsion, citing that the court knew my son was targeted and was special needs, and yet the district did nothing,” he said.

“We have now filed a claim against the school district. Part of the complaint we filed on April 26 states that they [the school district] are trying to harass and intimidate our son. I will say the teachers and students have been very supportive, it is strictly the administration.”

Temecula Valley Unified School District would not comment on the case, but released a statement to ABC News via its attorney:

“The district continues to act lawfully and in furtherance of its mission to educate students and better prepare them for successful adulthood. Any and all claims filed with the district will be considered and processed in accordance with district policy and procedure, and the law. The district continues to research and consider its options for addressing the administrative law judge’s decision, but no appeal has been filed at this point.”

Snodgrass said his son is now three months behind in school and will not graduate as originally planned.

“I can’t underscore how very outraged we are at the school district for allowing this to go on and for their mishandling of this,” he said. “We believe that the intent to not have dealers in schools is really a great thing and we really agree with that, but this is not the right way to go about that. Our son was not the right person to target.”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story misstated the reason for the boy’s transfer to Chaparral High School for his senior year. His father said  it was because the family had moved to a new district. Also, the parents did get medication to their son on his first night of detention, which was also misstated in the original version of the story.

 

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