Atascadero police accused of illegal searches

August 30, 2012


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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Anyone remember the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution?

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported byOath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

“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.”

This is the typical PR statement one would expect from a law enforcement spokesperson. Have you (as an adult) ever tried to deny a law enforcement officer permission to search you, your vehicle, or your home whenever they felt like it? HAHA – “Up against the wall motherfucker” (or worse) is more the reality. Follow these links for but one of way too many examples of searches gone wrong. Note the “official statements” that are in the preliminary report (LA Times) and how the differ so much from the reality that was later exposed…. If you’re not afraid after reading about just this one case, pull your head out and take a better look.

This is irresponsible reporting. Everything that the police are reported of doing in this article is perfectly legal. Yes, police can ask a 14 year old to look in their bag. No, they do not need permission if they have probable cause. This is something that has been decided in several case laws.

If the parents don’t like it then they need to work on changing the laws and not the agency that is enforcing the laws as they are written.

Unfortunately, the reporter put a negative spin on this story by getting statements from an attorney who was not there and a parent who does not know what he/she is talking about. This is a story about a police agency doing their job. Nobody was brutalized and nobody’s rights were violated but the reporter needed to make it controversial.

Since when is sitting in a park with a back pack “probable cause”? State a case where probable cause was ruled on as sufficient for carrying a back pack? Look at that kid in the photo and tell me that he is a gang banger! More like “nerd” would be the profile. I have no problem with running off the gang bangers by any and all means available including harassment. I do have a problem with violating the rights of everyday teenagers and family picnickers and so should you. It’s thinking like yours that is turning this country into a police state.

Cindy it sounds like you are wanting the officers to start profiling people in the park. Who would you suggest that they check and who they don’t check. Does their appearance make approval of search if YOU don’t happen to like the way they look.

The Sunken Gardens is a “drug free” zone. Unfortunately because of some of the characters in the area, no particular looks, there is and has been a drug problem in that area.

Recently I believe there have been 4 deaths attributed to drugs in Atascadero. The Atascadero High School has initiated a “Lighthouse” program to address the issue. I fully support the efforts of the PD, hopefully they will save a life from another drug overdose.

Herr Holly,

What’s a “Drug Free” zone?

The whole country is a “drug free” zone, since illicit drugs are generall illegal to begin with

What’s the point?

Oh….it’s your propaganda for continuation of the War on Drugs which has only led to the expansion of Industry of corrections and the expansion of drug cartels and gangs.

“Drug Free” zone….more feel good policy instilling paranoia…

….oh yea don’t start with your enhancement provision of existing laws that society isn’t able to enforce to begin with.

War on Drugs! This is where we are…a paranoid police state!

Keep oil flowiing…

Keep government spending growing…

Build more prisons….

Soon you’ll have enough inmates to keep all your castle walls polished and no doubt your castle guards are already busy enough so we’ll just have to hire more…no wait! We’ll have Herr Holly and the volunteers ride in on their righteous donkeys to protect us.


It’s a far cry from Andy Griffith, isn’t it?

Once again you are commenting on something that you have limited knowledge on. Here is a shocker for you: the Police DO NOT need probable cause to go up and talk to someone on the park bench, or anywhere. What?!! That is a violation of my 4th Amendment right!! No it is not. The Police can go up and talk to anyone they want, anytime. Downtown Bob hit the nail on the head a few posts down. No one’s rights were violated here and the reporting in this article is irresponsible. You worry about a “police state” but then you say the gang bangers should be run off and harrassed. Guess what, they have 4th Amend protections too. This article generated the usual uniformed anti-cop lobby to get their collective panties in a bunch and spew uninformed garbage all over the place.

They are not talking about merely TALKING to someone. The police can talk to anybody they want, any time they want.

They cannot search people or their personal effects without PROBABLE CAUSE and permission of the citizen.

You are talking about two things. “They cannot search people or their personal effects without PROBABLE CAUSE and permission of the citizen.” If they have PC then they don’t need the citizen’s permission. It is either/or, not both. Also, to use PC is also a little overbroad. There are instances where “reasonable suspicion” is enough, like a Terry v Ohio situation.

You are still missing the point. The police in this case are suspected of having NEITHER probable cause nor permission of the citizen.

These are police state tactics, and we should not be putting up with them.

You are exactly right SouthCounty! Wow, someone with common sense here. Nice to meet you.

Hey, how are you doing today? Good good. You know we have been having a big problem with criminal activity here in the park with drugs and weapons? Yeah, it’s a big problem. Were just out here trying to make everyone safe. Yeah…..what have you got in your backpack? You don’t have any drugs or weapons in there do you? Would you mind if I took a look? Ok, thanks a lot, have a great day!

That is how easy it is to get consent folks, nothing dangerous or intrusive about that. Do you really want the police to have to sit around and wait for something to happen, or would you rather have them be proactive? If you have a young man sitting or lingering in the park with bags, does he have a right to do that over the rights of a young family to enjoy the park? Do you really think that the police need to wait until they actually see him whip out a hammer to attack someone or take a sip of beer before they make contact? No one wants to visit a park with a bunch of lazy ass homeless strewn all over with they dogs crapping on the lawn and needles thrown in the grass.

I commend APD for taking a proactive approach. Don’t like it, don’t f*ing carry a backpack and hang around. Don’t trash the creek and pollute our watershed in Atascadero. Try cleaning up after yourself, just because you are poor does not mean you need to be a feral animal. Ride the bus to San Luis or Santa Barbara where you can do whatever you want.

Peace out.

Those are tactics of Martial Law.

The police should not be out in force, in public, investigating criminal activity without probable cause.

Policing is not standing around staring citizens down and using the power of authority to dominate public space.

Proper police tactics in a civilized harmoneous society will have the police getting to know the citizens on a first name basis, who they are and talking about the weather.

For instance….Hey, looks like your busy with school starting? What kinds of classes are you taking? Do you plan to go to college? How about those Greyhounds last week, quite a show!!! What do you think of those tasty burgers as Sylvester’s….

None of us knows who they are interviewing or getting consent from. From my observations, the top photos shows a positive contact like you are talking about. The lower photo, to me, shows an man that appears to me to be over high school age. We have no idea why he is there, if he was on probation, on parole, or gave consent for the officer to check his bag. Was there anything in there or was he is released. A few photos and an headline does not necessarily point to any wrongdoing.

As to the officers needing “probable cause” to search a bag, really the lower standard of “reasonable suspicion” that “criminal activity is afoot” can be used based upon the officer’s raining and experience for a search and detention. There is no standard necessary for an officer to talk to and get consent to do anything from anyone.

BTW, we will not settle these issues with and article and debate; this has been a constant debate by scholars with way more experience than all of us put together for nearly two hundred years. It is good to consider and bounce ideas around though.

Tower of Babel Downtown Bob,

What koolaide have you been drinking?

“BTW, we will not settle these issues with and article and debate; this has been a constant debate by scholars with way more experience than all of us put together for nearly two hundred years. It is good to consider and bounce ideas around though.”

Well who can argue with that inferior logic?

Keep me out of your frog soup. To think any past or current mortal man is better than you, I or anyone else contributing to this is a sad reflection on you not me or anyone else on this forum. Our ancestors, immediate, past, and historic are inspirations not gods. Our laws today are what we have to live with. As long as we continue to be a nation of bitches complaining about cockroach farts…well keep drinking the koolaide and have mine while your at it.

Perhaps its the lack of debate our society has that contributes to the current state of stupidity.

SLOBIRD-Thank you for getting real and not reactive. Anybody who could handle lunch in the park like you suggested, can then write what they feel like. Few ever acknowledge the police for what they do well. As soon as we think our spoiled, priveledged lives are being infringed upon, we react without thinking, that if one of those people hanging out at the park got in our face while we were having lunch, it would be the cops we would call and want them to clean that place up.

As parents we should all be concerned with the activities taking place in our treasured Sunken Gardens. The homeless community have taken over this location when they leave the homeless shelter in the morning. The hang they during the day, smoking, smoking, etc. Then you add the mix of gang members and our middle/high school kids going there knowing contacts can be made for contraband and yes, I suppose the police are concerned. This is the core of our downtown, what little we have, and I strongly support a police presence. Let me be clear, I am not for a police state, although I see that everyday and week from Sacramento, Board of Supervisors, Cities, I am for protecting our parks, downtown, sunken gardens, and the cmmunity as a whole. I challenge anyone of you posting here to go sit and have lunch or a afternoon break in the sunken gardens before you start bashing the police.

LOL, LOL, LOL,….. The APD has decided to issue a press release about an attack that occurred in the Sunken Gardens on AUGUST 18th. Imagine that, they didn’t think the citizens needed to know that some 20 year old guy who doesn’t seem to recall very much say’s he got beat up there (he did get beat up somewhere) and his wallet was stolen.

I suspect that the attack was never reported to the press because there is something very fishy about the victims behavior and account to begin with.

Nice try APD but a two week old press release doesn’t cut it. If it was important enough for you to assume the “illegal” posture that you have with our youth, it was important enough to report the reason to us.

Sorry……..Forgot to tell you all that the article is in the Tribune but I bet, you already guessed that.

Cindy-Don’t drink and drive, it could give you a bad attitude.

Perhaps you would like to comment on the fact that the story of the attack in the SG wasn’t released for 2 weeks and consider why it suddenly made headlines accompanied by flimsy facts? Did you even bother to read it in the tribune or did you auto pilot yourself straight into jack ass mode?

Flimsy facts like this ridiculous CCN article?

What are parents supposed to do?

Teach our children to know their rights against unreasonable search & unlawful detention, or to always respect law enforcement and to obey adults?

It’s not a simple matter to learn to be able to do both simultaneously. We have trained our citizens to be passive in the face of this commonplace abuse of their rights, and that law enforcement and the courts are there to define & uphold the law–that the law is there to ensure the protection of our rights.

Question Authority, always.

Sounds like a few of you need a lesson in the constitution. Innocent until proven guilty doesn’t look like it means here much either. To give unfettered power to police indicates a weak mind, and a lack of understanding of constitutional protections. You are, essentially, relinquishing freedoms that were fought and died for because you illogically believe the police are only going after those who deserve it. I want them to need more of a reason than I’m sitting in a park with a backpack to search me. But then again, I believe so strongly in our constitution, I think it should apply to everyone.

What an embarrassment to Atascadero and the APD to be caught hasseling the middle school kid in shorts. Looking for gang members? vagrants? Then learn a little more about how they dress, and leave the school kids alone, you big ole bullies. You should be ashamed.