Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Thursday, April 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

‘Deeply Troubled’ Judge|OKs On-Campus Arrest

(CN) - A high school basketball star caught selling marijuana off campus cannot sue the police for arresting him at school, though a federal judge was "deeply troubled" by the officers' conduct.

According to the ruling in Philadelphia Federal Court, Pius X High School varsity ballplayer Sean P. O'Neill was arrested in the middle of the school day in February 2010 on a charge of possessing and delivering marijuana off-campus the month before, in Bangor, Penn.

Borough of Bangor Police Chief Michael Hunsicker and Officer Glenn Kerrigan gave the school principal a copy of the charges - without advising O'Neill of his right, as a juvenile, to keep the charges private.

O'Neill was patted down, handcuffed and "'paraded out of the principal's office, along the corridors of the school, past various students and then taken out of the front door in view of virtually all classrooms to be placed in a Borough of Bangor police patrol car,'" U.S. District Judge Juan Sánchez wrote, citing the amended complaint.

A consent decree from the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas resolved the charges in April 2010, giving O'Neill 6 months of probation.

O'Neill was therefore never adjudicated delinquent under Pennsylvania law, and school officials need not have been notified of his conduct.

After his arrest, O'Neill was suspended from school and prohibited from playing basketball, jeopardizing his ability to graduate on time, as well as his college career, according to his amended complaint.

O'Neill sued Hunsicker and Kerrigan for abusing their authority: making an example of him on school property for a nonschool-related offense, in derogation of Pennsylvania juvenile privacy protections, and in violation of his Fourth, Ninth, and 14th Amendment rights. O'Neill also brought state law claims.

But Judge Sánchez granted the officers' motion to dismiss, for qualified immunity.

"Even assuming O'Neill had a reasonable expectation of privacy on the premises of his private high school, akin to the expectation of privacy a person would have in his own home, the defendants' conduct in this case falls short of the type of privacy violation that has been held to be extraordinary in other cases," Sánchez wrote, dismissing O'Neill's Fourth Amendment claim.

The court held that the officers did not stage a "perp walk," which the 2nd Circuit has defined as "a widespread police practice in New York City in which the suspected perpetrator of a crime, after being arrested, is 'walked' in front of the press so that he can be photographed or filmed."

"O'Neill alleges he was handcuffed and then 'paraded' out of the school and into a police car 'in view of virtually all classrooms,'" Sánchez wrote. "This scenario differs from the perp walks addressed in both Lauro and Caldarola in that it involved no media attention or publicity to a broader audience than those present at the site of the arrest. Moreover, while defendants' decision to orchestrate the arrest on school grounds was unnecessary and reflects poor judgment, the arrest cannot be said to have served no legitimate law enforcement purpose."

Sánchez let the officers off the hook for all claims, in his 23-page ruling.

"Although this court is deeply troubled by the conduct of the officers in this case, the constitutional rights they are alleged to have violated were not clearly established at the time of O'Neill's arrest," Sánchez wrote. "Defendants' motion will therefore be granted as to O'Neill's § 1983 claims on the basis of qualified immunity. O'Neill's state law claims will be dismissed without prejudice."

O'Neill was a good student, according to the amended complaint. After playing basketball at Wentworth College in fall 2010, he transferred to Temple University.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.