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(12.30.02) Spicewood Residents And Travis County Settle Suit Against Capital Area Drug Task Force That Raided Residences Without a Warrant

(1.24.02) Spicewood Residents and TCRP File Suit Against Travis County and Central Texas Narcotics Task Force

(1.17.02) Parents Sue San Marcos CISD for Family Educational Rights And Privacy Act Violations

December 30, 2002

Spicewood Residents And Travis County Settle Suit Against Capital Area Drug Task Force That Raided Residences Without a Warrant

"MARIJUANA" TURNED OUT TO BE GIANT RAGWEED
PLAINTIFF SANDRA SMITH SAYS "NIGHTMARE HAS ENDED"

The Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) and Travis County have advised U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks that they have settled the suit that TCRP filed last January on behalf of Spicewood residents Sandra Smith, David Howard, Chance Leverett, and Wayne Darling. Ms. Smith is a disabled widow, and descendent of David Crockett; and Mr. Howard, a decorated and disabled Vietnam War veteran.

The plaintiffs were at home, on May 8, 2001, when a DPS helicopter began circling overhead, very low. To Mr. Howard, the helicopter overhead made him recall his service in Vietnam.

Soon after the helicopter appeared, the Capital Area Drug Task Force arrived, guns drawn, and without a warrant. They searched the premises and the residences, where Mr. Leverett was sleeping. He awoke to a machine gun in his face. The Task Force officers were apparently searching for a marijuana grove that supposedly existed at the rear of Ms. Smith's property. But, instead of marijuana, they found giant ragweed, one of the most common plants in the area.

Travis County has agreed to pay the Plaintiffs in this case $40,000. Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe has already issued a formal written apology. Sandra Smith, owner of the property where the raid took place, said she was "glad to put this nightmare behind me and get on with my life. I hope the Sheriff and her deputies learn their lesson from this that they must respect our civil rights and treat us with dignity ... not just us but all the residents of Travis County."

TCRP Director Jim Harrington, who is representing the residents, called the Spicewood raid "extremely shabby and flawed police work by officers who had little respect for the law and even less respect for the citizens of the community."

The Capital Area Drug Task Force, which has now been taken over by the Governor's office because of its controversial performance, was involved in another raid on a residence on February 15, 2001, in which Deputy Keith G. Ruiz lost his life. The wife of the suspect in Deputy Ruiz's death stated after the raid that she and her husband thought they were being robbed because the officers were in plain clothes and did not identify themselves.

On December 20, 2001, the same Narcotics Task Force was involved in yet another raid on a residence that resulted in a teenager being shot to death even though he was unarmed and asleep on the couch at the time the officers stormed the residence. For further information, call Jim Harrington at (512) 474-5073.

January 24, 2002

Spicewood Residents and TCRP File Suit Against Travis County and Central Texas Narcotics Task Force

Residences raided without a Warrant

Officers Claim Ms. Smith Was Growing Marijuana; But All They Found Was Giant Ragweed

The Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) filed suit today on behalf of Spicewood residents Sandra Smith, David Howard, Chance Leverett and Wayne Darling. Ms. Smith, a disabled widow, and Mr. Howard, a disabled Vietnam War veteran, were at home last summer, on May 8, 2001, when a DPS helicopter began circling at a very low altitude overhead. To Mr. Howard, the helicopter overhead and the raid made him recall the time he served in Vietnam.

Soon after the helicopter appeared, the Central Texas Narcotics Task Force arrived, guns drawn, and without a warrant. They searched the premises and the residences, where Mr. Leverett was sleeping. He awoke to a machine gun in his face. The Task Force officers were apparently searching for a marijuana grove that supposedly existed at the rear of Ms. Smith's property. But, instead of marijuana they found giant ragweed, one of the most common plants in the area.

The lawsuit, filed in Austin federal court, also alleges that, besides the illegal search, the Task Force officers tore up the premises, kicked an old dog, and generally menaced, intimidated, and threatened the residents.

Moreover, as a result of this raid and for no other reason, Ms. Smith is now listed as a possible narcotics violator, even though she previously had a spotless record and the officers had made a grievous mistake in conducting a fully armed, warrant-less raid on her home and property.

The Capital Area Narcotics Task Force was involved in another controversial drug raid on a residence less than a year ago. On February 15, 2001, the Task Force participated in a drug raid, dressed in civilian clothes, where Deputy Keith G. Ruiz lost his life. The wife of the suspect in Deputy Ruiz's death made statements after the raid that she and her husband thought they were being robbed because the officers were in plain clothes and did not identify themselves.

And, then, about a month ago, on December 20, 2001, the same Narcotics Task Force was involved in yet another raid on a residence that resulted in a teenager being shot to death even though he was unarmed and asleep on the couch at the time the officers stormed the residence.

There were children present at both the February 15, 2001 and December 20, 2002 raids, which is apparently not a factor in the decision to storm these residences with guns drawn. Had the warrant-less raid on Ms. Smith's residence taken place a little later in the afternoon, the young children of a single father who lived on her property at the time would have been present during the raid.

TCRP Director Jim Harrington, who is representing the residents, called the Spicewood raid "extremely shabby and flawed police work by officers who had little respect for the law and even less respect for the citizens of the community. These officers need to get over their SWAT team mentality once and for all. Too many people already have been killed or hurt because of their escapades"

For further information, call Jim Harrington at (512) 474-5073.

January 17, 2002

Parents Sue San Marcos CISD for Family Educational Rights And Privacy Act Violations

2nd Suit Against San Marcos CISD For Violations of Student Rights

Edward and Melba Garcia, David and Norma Gaona, Ida Avila, and Sharon Morin have filed suit today in federal court against San Marcos CISD for violations of their children's privacy rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the federal and state constitutions, and common law.

The suit alleges that while attending school in the San Marcos CISD, the children of the named Plaintiffs in this matter had specific, identifiable information and education records released, without the written consent of their parents, to unauthorized individuals. In particular, San Marcos High School Principal, Julio Toro, and SMCISD Superintendent, Dr. Ann Dixon, unlawfully discussed confidential information about the students, and gave documents and other information to parents who opposed previous efforts made by the Plaintiffs to address deficiencies in the selection process for the San Marcos High School's cheerleading squads. This confidential information was used against the Plaintiffs and their daughters at an open school board meeting as a way of trying to embarrass, confuse, and intimidate them.

The minor student's names were also unlawfully released by Principal Toro to the press, and their names subsequently appeared in a local newspaper article.

As a result of the school district and administrators' actions, the families have been subject to retaliation and harassment from school employees and community members.

"It's unfortunate how common the violation of student privacy rights is in Texas schools. More must be done by the school districts to train their administrators, staff, and teachers about respecting and protecting their students' privacy," stated the families' attorney, James C. Harrington, of the Texas Civil Rights Project. "We regret that this action must be taken to court, but sometimes lawsuits are the only way to get the school districts to take appropriate action," stated Andrea Gunn, also representing the families.

FERPA, a federal statute, prohibits public schools from releasing student education records or personal information contained in the records without the written consent of the studentís parents. In addition, the Texas state constitution has extraordinarily strong provisions protecting the privacy rights of individuals, and state common law prohibits the sort of invasion of privacy alleged by the parents in this case.

The parents seek an order from the Austin federal court, enjoining San Marcos CISD from unlawfully disclosing or distributing personal information and education records of students. They also seek a declaratory judgment from the federal court that the school district and its agents acted unlawfully, and they seek money damages.

For more information, please call Andrea M. Gunn, at 512/474-5073.

 

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