DENVER (CN) - An elementary school in a small Colorado town had a student arrested for his good-faith report that classmates were talking about a gun, then police bullied the boy's parents with baseless charges and followed them around town, the family claims in court.
Jason Gallegos and Jenniffer Yarbrough sued the City of Fort Lupton and four of its police officers, the Weld County RE-8 School District, its superintendent, two principals and a vice principal, in Federal Court.
Fort Lupton, pop. 6,800, is in northeast Colorado, near the Wyoming and Nebraska line.
The parents claim their 10-year-old son, C.G., was put through the wringer for speaking up about a possible gun threat at Butler Elementary School. The harassment from school officials and police was so bad that C.G. developed post-traumatic stress disorder, his parents say.
"On April 21, 2011, C.G. reported to a teacher at District School Butler Elementary that he had heard a fellow student say, 'there's a gun' and then saw students gather around and look into a backpack," the complaint states.
"[Defendant principal Nativity] Miller and [defendant vice principal Stephanie] Anderson locked down the school, took CG out of his classroom, and questioned him in the hallway before moving him to the school office.
"CG repeated what he told the teacher and Miller and Anderson returned with two other boys who had been with CG when he heard the remark, and questioned the three together.
"[Defendant police Officer Crystal] Schwartz arrived and questioned CG, who showed her the backpack into which he had seen the students looking earlier.
"Schwartz and another officer, believed to be [defendant Paul] Stipe, moved CG, searched him, and ordered him to sit on the floor.
"Schwartz and the other officer, believed to be Stipe, questioned CG again and Schwartz asked CG if he were lying, which he denied.
"When CG next asked Schwartz and Stipe to telephone his parents, they arrested him, confined him in a patrol car, and, at Halloran's direction, transported him to the police station."
The parents say the officers interrogated C.G. and accused him of making a false report: that they knew he was lying about the gun. "CG was interrogated for several hours before his parents found him," they say in the complaint.
They learned through the school that their son had been arrested, went to the police station and demanded that police release him or charge him with a crime; he was released without chares, the say.
Then the police retaliated, the parents say.
"Beginning in October, 2011, and continuing to the present day, Fort Lupton police officers and [school] district employees began a campaign of harassment and intimidation of the plaintiffs and their family," the complaint states.
"On January 6, 2012, Fort Lupton police officers stopped Gallegos in his vehicle without probable cause, charged him with numerous offenses including driving while intoxicated, attempting to elude a police officer, and child endangerment, without probable cause for the charges, and with the result that the charges were later dismissed by judicial finding and order.
"Yarbrough and other family members have been repeatedly stopped, searched, detained, and publicly humiliated by Fort Lupton police officers, without reasonable suspicion, probable cause, or warrant, and have been repeatedly subjected to offensive touching of their persons, seizure and search of their purses, property, and persons, ridicule and intimidation, anxiety and fear for their personal safety and that of their families.
"Gallegos, Yarbrough, their children, and extended family members, have been subjected to a continual campaign of police harassment including numerous instances in which Fort Lupton officers have harassed, searched, and seized individuals and blocked the family's driveway with police cruisers, parked at their home and openly surveilled the family, cruised by the family home and made attempts to look inside, and generally made public their presence at the home, with the result that neighbors of the Plaintiffs have inquired repeatedly about why they are the subject of so much police attention, causing them further humiliation and damage to their reputation, anxiety, and fear for their safety.
"Yarbrough is followed by Fort Lupton police officers on a regular and continual basis as she comes and goes from home to work, and continues to be followed, despite attempting to take circuitous routes through the City, causing her anxiety and fear for her safety and that of her family.
"CG has been subjected to continual acts of retaliation, cruelty, and unfair treatment by officials and employees at Butler Elementary School and Fort Lupton Middle School, where he has been repeatedly threatened with academic failure, mocked, taunted, and threatened by district employees, with the result that he now suffers from severe anxiety and depression and a hatred for school, and begs Yarbrough and Gallegos on a daily basis to move away from the District."
The parents say their son was never disciplined by his school, which acknowledged that the original incident was a misunderstanding.
They say he "suffers nightmares and night terrors, and is hyper-vigilant and deeply frightened of police."
Also named as defendants are Weld County School District Superintendent Mark Payler and Fort Lupton Middle School Principal Candace Kensinger.
The family seeks damages for constitutional violations, assault, false imprisonment, defamation, and outrage.
They are represented by John K. Pineau in Boulder.
Colorado is the site of two Columbine high school massacre and the mass murders at a movie theater in Aurora.
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