Tuesday, September 11, 2018
Arrest of Schoolgirls to ‘Prove a Point’ Violated Fourth Amendment
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A San Bernardino sheriff’s deputy who arrested a group of seventh grade girls in order to “prove a point” and “make [them] mature a lot faster” violated the girls’ Fourth Amendment rights as a matter of law, because he lacked probable cause to arrest them for fighting in public, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held yesterday.
Three of the students’ parents, David Scott, Angelica Santana, and Dejah Hall, sued San Bernardino, Deputy Luis Ortiz, and related defendants as guardians ad litem for their minor children (identified in court documents as S.S., L.R., and R.H. respectively). Chief Judge Virginia A. Phillips of the Central District of California granted the plaintiffs’ summary judgment motion in the civil rights action.
Circuit Judge Jacqueline H. Nguyen wrote the opinion affirming Phillips’ ruling.
Incident at School
In Oct. 2013, Ortiz, a school resource officer, agreed to counsel a group of girls who had been involved in incidents of bullying at Etiwanda Intermediate Middle School in Rancho Cucamonga.
To that end, he addressed the students after school in a classroom. The meeting included the plaintiffs, who alleged they were the victims of violent bullying, as well as the alleged bullies, including a girl identified as L.V.
The record indicates that Ortiz quickly became frustrated with what he perceived as the group’s lack of respect.
“And for the one lady laughing that thinks it’s funny, I am not playing around. I am dead serious that we are taking you guys to jail. That might [be], it might be-is, the most easiest thing to do...to wanting to prove a point...that I am not playing around....Eventually, maybe, you guys will make it into high school, then I will have to deal with you even more. Here is a good opportunity for me to prove a point and make you guys mature a lot faster.”
He then indicated that he did not care “who is at fault, who did what….To me, it is the same ticket, same pair of handcuffs.”
Penal Code §415
True to his word, Ortiz called for backup and arrested all seven girls in attendance at the meeting, citing them for violating Penal Code §415, the statutory prohibition against public fighting.
The deputy had no probable cause for the arrest, Nguyen said. She explained that §415 does not apply to school grounds, which is covered by §415.5
“Second, even if § 415(1) applied to school grounds, Deputy Ortiz lacked probable cause to arrest the three Plaintiffs,” she continued, declaring:
“In fact, had Deputy Ortiz even minimally inquired about the circumstances of the conflict, as he initially intended to do, he would have learned that the three Plaintiffs had tried that very morning to report L.V.’s aggression to school administrators.”
No Qualified Immunity
In addition to lacking probable cause for the arrest, Ortiz was also not entitled to qualified immunity, Nguyen wrote. Although students are afforded lesser protections against searches at school than normal citizens under U.S. Supreme Court’s 1985 decision in New Jersey v. T.L.O. , she said, that case set forth a reasonableness test for such searches to qualify for immunity.
Nguyen applied the T.L.O. test’s two prongs, which have been extended to also apply to seizures. Under the test, a search or seizure is reasonable and thus subject to qualified immunity when it was justified at its inception, and it was reasonably related in scope to the justification.
She said that the arrest had not been justified, adding:
“Deputy Ortiz clearly stated that the justification for the arrests was not the commission of a crime, since he did not ‘care who is at fault,’ nor the school’s special need to maintain campus safety, but rather his own desire to ‘prove a point’ and ‘make’ the students ‘mature a lot faster.’ The arrest of a middle schooler, however, cannot be justified as a scare tactic, a lesson in maturity, or a chastisement for perceived disrespect.”
The case is Scott v. County of San Bernardino, No. 16-55518.
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