Atascadero police accused of illegal searches

August 30, 2012

By DANIEL BLACKBURN

Atascadero police are routinely rooting through backpacks and belongings of youngsters in the city park, often without permission, in what officials describe as an attempt to staunch gang and criminal activity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A parent who witnessed officers’ contact with juveniles and other people in the park last week said the searches appeared to be random, and often involved young teenagers from the nearby Atascadero Junior High School campus. Plainclothes and uniformed officers also approached, questioned, and searched picnickers and others in the park, and rousted a few homeless from a nearby creek. CalCoastNews obtained photographs of some of the police actions, but Atascadero police officials declined to identify any of the officers in the photos.

Sgt. Gregg Meyer, public information officer for the Atascadero Police Department, said his department “doesn’t have a specific policy about searching these backpacks. We follow the law. If there is suspicion or probable cause, then we will do it (search). But even juveniles have rights. If they (field officers) are going to search a backpack, they are either going to have a reason to do it, or they will get permission from the student to do that. If there’s a crime, there will be an arrest. If no crime, then everyone walks away happy.”

San Luis Obispo attorney Louis Koory said he doubts the searches are always appropriate. After viewing one photo of officers examining the contents of a young teen’s backpack, Koory said, “This sure looks like a detention and an illegal search.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“What would have happened to this juvenile if he walked away from the police or refused to let them search his backpack?” asked Koory, the 2009-2011 San Luis Obispo County Trial Lawyer of the Year.

Meyer said there are efforts on the part of some “to emulate the Paso gangs.”

“We have had an increase of criminal activity in the park,” Meyer said. “We have a group of kids who claim to be part of a gang. They are not into drugs, they just like to dress differently.”

Meyer acknowledged that “minors are being contacted in the park, and I think those contacts have been, over all, good. We have made some arrests of juveniles, for possessing dangerous weapons such as a knife. We have arrested adults for lying. That’s what’s been going on down there. We don’t just go up randomly and say, ‘Hey, I’m searching your bag.’”

Koory suggested there are different levels of contact between police and citizens in a public place. One type is consensual, and another type is a detention.

“A detention occurs when a reasonable person would not feel free to leave. A detention is a restraint on liberty and is governed by the Fourth Amendment,” Koory said. “Street detentions of juveniles by police are still governed by the Fourth Amendment. There must be some suspicion of criminal conduct to justify such a detention.”

Meyer contends the officers “always” get permission from subjects of field searches if there is no apparent reasonable suspicion.

“But if we get information that drugs might be involved, or a weapon, we do not need permission,” Meyer said.

Attorney Koory said that such “permission” granted by minors under duress might be inadequate.

“In the absence of valid consent from the juvenile — questionable here given his age and the display of authority — the backpack search is illegal and is arguably an abuse of authority,” Koory said. “Police are limited in a street detention to conducting a pat down search only — and only — if the officer believes the person is armed and dangerous. An officer who has no right to conduct a pat search cannot search the citizen’s belongings, such as the backpack in the photo.”

Meyer said he shares concerns about the legality of officer searches.

“If what you are saying is true, then I have a problem with that,” he said. “I am very concerned about it, and it is something I need to investigate. If we have rogue cops, then we will deal with it.” But he said he would need a formal complaint from a parent to proceed.

 


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inmyopinion

I dont like this one bit. So what happens if the student says “NO” then they say they are suspicious? and then they create their own scenario of the kids suspicious activity. What for saying no?

How about saying no, I will do it only if I have a parent present. What then? Will they let them call their parent or just do it any way? Meyer wont do sqaut, he is just pumping hands, make em feel better.

This is one parent that would be raising some serious hell if that happened to my kid. People have every right to be in that park without being subject to being treated like a gang member or criminal. You should be able to wait for your ride or picnic without such invasion of your privacy. What are we coming to people when you let police abuse their authority? this is how it get out of hand. People have to stand up and say “NO”. JMO


sandra66

This has nothing to do with gangs and drugs. It’s all about keeping downtown kid and vagrant free. Please APD violate all the rights of the gang members and drug dealers. That’s what you’re going to have to do to get it under control. But I’m not sure you’re targeting those people. Why don’t you work with the junior high and the parents to stop the loitering on the way home from school.


Spirit Filled

I’d rather see the police overly protective than just letting things go.


Okay overboard is overboard and in this case I think they are being a little too cautious but thank you to the police anyway. They have a hell of job that most people would run from. Okay, they made a misstake. At least that’s what the “lawyer of the year says”. Should I trust him? How about Gearhart, should I also trust him? I am working on trust issues with lawers. And people that are, “people of the year”.


Just a little skeptacle after watching my friend suffer from being robbed of the little money he had in a land deal. Some people are especially stealthy and can rob you while you watch. Honey flows from their lips. You blink and they are gone. And so is your money.


I’m not especially fond of congratulating someone until they think they are special. When someone does a special act of kindness they know they are being giving and generous they don’t need to be told over and over again. Most times doing the act is enough to make you feel good. Applause isn’t needed.


In fact the applause can be very embarrassing. I actually think giving people don’t want to be a hero. They want quiet and space. God provides wonderful feelings within when you do a good thing for someone. That’s enough thanks for a real hero.


Cops are hero’s, show them respect and they will do the same for you 99% of the time. Someone high up must have oked this deal.


God Bless


pasoparent5

Am I the only one thoroughly confused by this post?


The Gimlet Eye

how do the police define “gang activity”?


Stupid questions?


Random searches without probable cause are illegal


HarryMalone

Being a teenager in A town is PROBABLE CAUSE!


ordinarycitizen

And we are surprised? Just add Atascadero to the list, SLO Sheriff Dept., Paso Robles PD, Morro Bay PD, Santa Maria PD, who’s next. What about our local courts that allow the actions to continue. Crooked is as Crooked does.


The Gimlet Eye

Welcome to the POLICE STATE.


The control grid extends everywhere.


r0y

Bah! Constitution schmonstitution!


I suppose it’s how one defines “unreasonable” when you actually read the text.


Definitely reasonable for that white nerdy lookin’ guy to be searched. I bet he has illegal internet downloads in that backpack! Get ’em ‘trashcadero PD!


-r0y


whoowhoo

So who hands out the “Trial Lawyer of the Year” award?


IronHub

An annual award by the San Luis Obispo County Bar Association.


winedude

WOW! Nothing much has changed since I was a lot younger. While there are some honest members of law enforcement, I’d have to say the majority are on a power trip to compensate for some other shortcoming. In which case I’d have to say that PIGS are PIGS, unfortunately.


bobfromsanluis

In the second photograph, it shows a young (presumably) man getting his backpack searched, and the article mentions how there are efforts “to emulate the Paso gangs” ; huh? This young man’s “gang” attire consists of what appear to be Hush Puppy shoes, almost knee length white socks, plaid shorts and a t-shirt; what “gang” colors are those? Some possible Scottish thugs? I think attorney Koory has it right; these pictures sure don’t make the Atascadero Police Department look like they are following the law, either very closely or at all. Most likely the young people that are questioned and searched are intimidated by the officers and don’t realize that they have the right to refuse to be searched.

” Those willing to give up liberty for security deserve neither and will lose both “


pasoparent5

LOL bob! Watch out for those Scottish thugs in Hush Puppies…so funny. Good post, bob.


slocorruptionhater

Ok Bob…I agree with you about the second picture. But, look at the first picture. The Cops are protecting us from thugs like that little guy without a shirt on. C’mon, you know that is not orange juice next to the little guy. And how about mom looking menacing and disrespectful? I am sure that whole gang belongs to the “Family trying to enjoy a day at the park” gang. If you see one of these gang bangers show up at a park in one of their minivans, run!!! Or better yet, call the cops and report the gang activity.


pasoparent5

Wow–another zinger! LOL The minivan gang… seriously another great post!


Theo P. Neustic

Actually, he is an adult and actually, he had drugs in his backpack . Not that it matters to anybody on this feeding frenzy.


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