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Bad Cop Blotter

Stop Sending Undercover Officers to High Schools

Hey, remember that movie in which Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum pretend to be high school students so they can pressure an autistic 17-year-old into buying a dub sack? Yeah, me neither.

Lucy Steigerwald

Lucy Steigerwald

Remember that movie in which Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill pressured a 17-year-old into buying a dub sack then arrested him?

On December 11, 2012, 17-year-old Jesse Snodgrass and a few of his fellow students were sitting in their classes in Chaparral High School in Riverside County, California, when they were arrested by armed cops. That raid, dubbed “Operation Glasshouse,” also extended to other schools in the district. At the end of that day, police had arrested 22 students and seized undisclosed amounts of weed, cocaine, pills, heroin, and LSD. The police considered it a great success. Snodgrass’s parents were horrified.

The March 14 issue of Rolling Stone has a detailed, disturbing account of how Sheriff’s Deputy Daniel Zipperstein went undercover at Chaparral and subsequently pretended to befriend Snodgrass (who suffers from autism, bipolar disorder, Tourette’s, and anxiety) and insisted he sell him $20 of weed on two occasions. It only took the 22-year-old cop 60 text messages and weeks of pestering to bend the vulnerable and largely friendless teenager to his will, but when Zipperstein failed to convince Snodgrass to sell him some of his anti-anxiety medication, the deputy stopped pretending to be his friend.

Snodgrass’s parents weren't informed of his December 11 arrest until the school mentioned he wasn’t there. He spent three days in juvenile lockup, where it had to be explained to him what was going on. Once a judge realized Snodgrass’s health issues, the teen got off with 20 hours of community service and a commitment to stay out of further trouble for six months. But he became withdrawn, blank, and depressed after his arrest and confinement, and Chaparral expelled him. The Temecula Valley Unified School District spent six days at an appeal hearing in February 2013 trying to make sure Jesse stayed gone. An actual human with the actual title of director of Child Welfare and Attendance, Michael Hubbard (one of the few people in the school administration who had known about Operation Glasshouse before the arrests) testified that Jesse knew right from wrong. Hubbard added that he didn't think the stings were “coercion or entrapment for any of the kids." That is, an undercover cop begging an autistic teen (who hadn't ever sold weed before) for drugs was acceptable activity in a high school.

A judge thankfully disagreed, ruling Jesse should be readmitted to the school that had left him "to fend for himself, anxious and alone, against an undercover police officer.” The school fought the appeal even as Jesse returned to class.

Now Snodgrass’s parents are suing the school district for failing to protect their son. According to the Rolling Stone article, Jesse developed PTSD from the experience. You could argue that he wasn’t the unluckiest victim of Operation Glasshouse, however—one kid had turned 18 before he sold pot to the cops and got sentenced to two years in prison.

Using undercover cops in schools like that is awful—they don’t seize large quantities of drugs or arrest major wholesalers, all they do is terrify high school kids while making it seem like the cops are protecting our children from a life of addiction or ruin. There are some signs the authorities realize this. The LAPD, which was the first department to use those made-for-TV-movie undercover tactics, discontinued them about eight years ago after a wave of negative publicity, and a 2007 Justice Department study found that these types of operations are expensive and don’t do anyone much long-term good. Nevertheless, police departments all over the country do this shit. In 2011 in Palm Beach County, Florida, an 18-year-old boy developed a crush on a girl who wanted to smoke some weed—and turned out to be a 25-year-old cop (he got arrested for selling her weed). Hell, in England, several undercover cops fathered children with political activists they were watching.

Riverside County's sheriff’s department has made additional busts since the one that caught Snodgrass—they’re still teaching kids not to trust anyone and that the police will lie to children. Good lessons, guys.

On to the rest of this week’s bad cops:

-–Some new details have emerged, thanks to the Dallas Observer, about the case of Clinton Petersen, a 28-year-old who was shot to death by police in Duncanville, Texas, in October under odd circumstances—namely, that three witnesses say he was running away from the cops when he was shot in the head. All three agree that the 28-year-old was first Tasered, then shot while fleeing from police after they were called because he was messing with his sometimes-girlfriend’s car lights. They also say that Peterson was handcuffed and left to die by the police, who didn’t attempt to help him. Now the recently released coroner’s report says that there likely wasn’t any effort to resuscitate Petersen. The officers who shot at him were on paid leave for a week before they returned to street duty. As of now, it looks like Petersen died for absolutely no reason.

–Specifics from the February 14 death of 17-year-old Christopher Roupe are still hazy, in that we still don’t know what the teen was holding when Euharlee, Georgia, police officer Beth Gatny shot him in the chest. Depending on whom you ask, Roupe either opened the door holding a pistol, a BB gun, or a Wii controller. Yet new information about Gatny’s rocky past in policing make her presence on a police force—even a teeny one like Euharlee’s—disturbing. According to documents obtained by an Atlanta news station (who also revealed her identity for the first time), Gatney was repeatedly written up by her former supervisors at the Acworth Police Department after ten years of repeated disciplinary infractions. She got into four car accidents, once left her gun belt with a civilian, and even fired her weapon at a suspect who was just taking his backpack off. Eventually, they let her go because she didn't show up to work, after which she filed for disability—a claim that was denied. Sounds like a winner.

–In testimony publicly released on Friday, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden told European Parliament he tried to tell at least ten different officials about his concerns over the agency’s spying on Americans before he took it upon himself to steal and then leak documents. Snowden testified that he was repeatedly told either that the issues were not his concern or that he shouldn’t make too much of a fuss, for fear of reprisals.

–A hair-raising March 6 Techdirt article described the creepy treatment that American Christine Von Der Haar received from Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers in 2012 after she went to Indianapolis International Airport with a friend so he could pick up some computer equipment. According to Von Der Haar’s lawsuit—filed on her behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union—she and her friend Dimitris Papatheodoropoulos, a Greek national, were taken to separate rooms. She was kept there for 25 minutes while she was interrogated about the nature of her and Papatheodoropoulos’s relationship, including their sex life. They were evidently trying to sniff out whether Papatheodoropoulos was planning to marry her for a visa—though he already had one that let him travel in and out of the US for ten years. What’s worse, the questions Der Haar and Papatheodoropoulos were asked suggests that their email exchanges had been read, and one CBP agent reportedly even admitted to that. How did the CBP get access to those emails? From the NSA? Der Haar is suing the government for violating the Fourth Amendment (i.e., the part of the Constitution that deals with unreasonable search and seizure).

–Last Monday, a New York City Port Authority cop caught a suicidal woman who suffered from bipolar disorder and depression before she jumped off the George Washington Bridge. Security guard Johnny Vasquez spotted the woman leaning over the bridge and radioed for help, and passing PA officer Christopher Outhouse grabbed the woman as she tried to run to the other side of the bridge when he came near. She was taken to a hospital for treatment, and both Vasquez and Outhouse are very deserving of our Good Cop of the Week Award.

Lucy Steigerwald is a freelance writer and photographer. Read her blog here and follow her on Twitter.