Students Say Counselor Played Cop in Sting
FRESNO, Calif. (CN) - A high school counselor enlisted two students to uncover drug sales on campus by buying marijuana, and when one of the students was arrested, school officials tried to cover up the boneheaded sting operation, the students claim in court.
Plaintiff students John Doe and Mary Roe sued Clovis Unified School District and its counselor Kelly Racca in Superior Court, asserting civil rights violations, negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Racca, a counselor at Clovis North High School with no law enforcement background, developed a plan to uncover the sale of marijuana on campus by using students in a sting operation, the lawsuit states.
Racca befriended Mary, a student at the school, to assist her by finding out the identity of the student selling the pot. Racca gave Mary money and told her to buy marijuana from the student dealer and bring it back to her, Mary says in the complaint.
Mary claims she was hesitant, but she and John, also a student at the school, agreed to help in return for Racca's help in trying to reinstate a student who had been expelled.
"Racca reported to plaintiffs her job situation was precarious, whether true or not, to elicit their sympathy and cooperation. She also induced their participation in her sting by promising favors that she may or may not as an employee of CUSD and Student Services counselor have been able to accomplish regarding allowing the readmission of an expelled student. She encouraged plaintiffs to assist her in a scheme that had plaintiffs violating the law and violating the CUSD zero tolerance policy regarding drug possession on campus," the lawsuit states.
Racca did not involve or notify the Police Department about the sting operation and did not get permission from Mary's or John's parents for the students to participate, the students say in the complaint.
"Racca did not inform Mary or John that they would be committing a crime if they purchased marijuana and then would have had this illegal drug in their possession, also a crime," the complaint states.
The students say they took the cash from Racca, and John bought marijuana from a student on campus.
"Mary took photographs of the transaction to implicate the student from whom John had purchased the marijuana. John and Mary then transported the marijuana across campus with the photograph and turned the narcotics and the photograph over to Racca," the complaint states.
The next day, Mary was called out of class for a conference with the school principal, another school administrator and two Clovis police officers.
"Without any due process and without notifying Mary's mother or father that Mary was being interrogated, Mary was instructed to describe what had occurred. Mary described the facts as to what occurred. Thereafter, the police officers arrested her," the complaint states.
Mary claims she was not told that she had the right to an attorney and that she did not have to answer questions that could incriminate her.
While school officials tried to explain to the officers what had happened, Mary says, she was left in the Student Services office for hours "under apparent arrest without any explanation of what was happening and without contact with her parents."
The school officials and officers called John into a conference room and advised him of his Miranda rights. John's requests to call his father were ignored and he was questioned at length regarding the incident, the complaint states.
A few days later, Mary was called out of class again, this time to prepare an incident report about the drug buy. She wrote the report while locked in an office by herself, she says.
Later that day, Student Services counselor Wesley Flowers brought Mary to his office along with Racca, who "pleaded with Mary to retract the statements that Racca had orchestrated the sting operation. After Racca left the office, Mr. Flowers also encouraged Mary to essentially lie about the event so that Racca would not be subject to criticism by her superiors, suggesting Mary would be burdened by guilt if she did not do so, and further discouraging Mary from getting legal advice and representation," the complaint states.
Flowers is not a party to the complaint.
Mary says she was told to retract her report that Racca had masterminded the sting and provided the money to buy the drugs, and to say that it was her own idea to buy the marijuana on campus.
School officials "assisted Racca's attempt to try to cover up the incident, assisted Racca to try to influence Mary to retract her story of the marijuana sting, directly encouraged Mary to retract her statements, and discouraged Mary from seeking legal advice," the lawsuit states.
Racca was never disciplined for her actions and still works for the school district, according to the complaint.
The student responsible for selling the marijuana was apprehended and expelled, and accusations by other students about there being "snitches" at school were directed at Mary and John, the complaint states.
"Racca failed to consider that coercing students to buy controlled substances from another student would potentially expose Mary and John as witnesses to prove a crime, subjecting them to ridicule and harassment by other students and potential physical harm by drug-related gang actions," the complaint states.
Mary and John seek punitive damages.
They are represented by Stephen R. Cornwell with Cornwell & Sample.
The school district did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.