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On The Front Lines

Rutherford Institute Attorney Seek Supreme Court Review of Public School Search & Seizure Case

Texas Police Harassment Case Appealed to U.S. Supreme Court

Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute have filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the Fourth Amendment rights of three Texas teenagers. In seeking the high court's review of Hill v. City of Freeport, Institute attorneys are asking the court to determine whether police officers overstepped the Constitution's prohibitions of illegal search and seizure when they harassed, handcuffed and arrested more than a dozen teenagers on the basis of guilt by association with a student whom they suspected of writing a threatening note to the school.

In April 1999, three days after the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., officials at Brazosport High School in Freeport, Texas, discovered a threatening note in a school computer center. Several days later, police officers and the school principal rounded up fourteen students who happened to sit around the same group of picnic tables as the note's suspected author. The students were pulled from their classrooms, physically searched and handcuffed, placed in police vehicles, and repeatedly threatened with extensive prison sentences if they attempted to resist arrest. The police had no warrants to arrest the students and no basis for suspecting them of wrongdoing. Nevertheless, the officers transported them to the police station where they were held for several hours and subjected to a verbally abusive lecture by police officials and the school principal before being released into their parents' custody. None of the students was charged with a crime. A federal court in Galveston, Texas, dismissed the lawsuit and commended the police and school authorities for their "overreaction" to the threat. The federal appeals court upheld the dismissal in a brief unpublished decision.

"This is the end result of 'zero tolerance': arresting and carrying away the 'usual suspects' simply because they dress differently or listen to different music," stated John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "To allow the school principal and police officials to get away with such blatant violations of students' civil rights is teaching our children that the police are above the law."

The Rutherford Institute is an international, nonprofit civil liberties organization committed to defending constitutional and human rights. For more information about the work of The Rutherford Institute, visit

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Nisha N. Mohammed
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