by Antonio Ponvert III
December 16, 2003
Thank you, Denyse, and thank you ladies and gentlemen, for coming today.
I would like to specially thank the reverend Jesse Jackson, whose presence is always welcome and always inspiring.
Just to let you know who I am, my name is Antonio Ponvert. I am a civil rights attorney from Bridgeport Connecticut. And I am a member of a team of lawyers that represents the plaintiffs in this case, a team that includes some of the most experienced police misconduct lawyers in the country.
We are here today to announce the filing of a federal lawsuit brought by twenty students at the stratford high school against the goose creek police department, the city of goose creek, the berkeley county school board and various officials of those government organizations.
I'd like to describe what the lawsuit alleges.
I will tell you a little bit about the school children who are the plaintiffs in this case.
And I'm going to talk very briefly about why this raid should offend everyone's deepest sense of the sanctity of the school as a place of safety, a place for learning, and a place of respect for civil liberties.
First, the allegations in the complaint.
As many of you have seen on the videotapes broadcast these past few weeks, in the early morning on November 5, 2003, more than a dozen goose creek police officers executed a paramilitary style police raid at the stratford high school.
After pre-raid planning sessions - sessions attended by the school's principal and the police chief - police officers concealed themselves in closets, offices and stairwells at the school.
As the school's main hallway filled with students, the officers rushed out with guns drawn, yelling "get down" and "put your hands on your head."
The officers grabbed and pushed students, and forced them to the ground. Officers put plastic restraining bands around their wrists.
The police and school officials then used a large and aggressive police dog and they searched the students' pockets, wallets, book bags and other possessions.
All of these acts are captured on videotape.
No drugs were found. No weapons were found. No criminal charges were placed against any of the plaintiffs or other students as a result of the raid.
The plaintiffs in this case are all minor school children who range in age from 14 to 17 years old, and one 18-year old young man. One plaintiff is white; nineteen are african american. Fourteen of the plaintiffs are boys; six are girls.
During the raid, each of these children was subjected to police force that truly shocks the conscience of this town and these families.
The police officers actually pointed loaded weapons at these children, an inexcusable tactic that could have led to death or serious injuries.
The defendants' actions left the plaintiffs feeling terrorized, betrayed, deeply frightened, humiliated, and wrongfully accused.
In terms of the legal claims asserted in the complaint, the lawsuit alleges violation of
--the plaintiffs' fourth amendment right to be free from unconstitutional search and seizure and
--their fourth amendment right to be free from the use of excessive force.
The complaint also asserts claims for assault, battery and false arrest.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, and it seeks an injunction, prohibiting the defendants from ever again conducting this kind of paramilitary raid.
The complaint was filed this morning in south carolina federal district court in charleston.
Why is this lawsuit important?
In the years and decades to come, the Goose Creek police department's paramilitary style raid at the stratford high school will become synonymous in the nation's mind with how not to implement anti-drug policy in our schools.
It will become synonymous in the nation's mind with what happens when our country's anti-drug policy is turned over to government officials who, in their zeal to counter perceived illegal activities, themselves act illegally, irreparably damaging the civil rights of the students they are sworn to protect.
The raid will become synonymous in our nation's mind with how easy it is, if we are not ever vigilant, for even well-meaning government officials to inflict lasting constitutional injury and emotional trauma on some of our most defenseless citizens.
For many reasons, the days since the raid have been sad and difficult. Today is no less so, because what happened on November 5 in Goose Creek -- and the necessity of bringing this lawsuit to vindicate the constitutional rights of these children -- reminds us of the delicate balance between freedom and security. And it reminds us of how easily the police, our school officials, our government can upset that balance if we are not vigilant to stop them and tell them no.
But today is also an empowering day for the children who are the plaintiffs in this lawsuit and for their families.
It is a day to call this irresponsible and ill-advised school drug policy what it is - an aberration, a shock, and an insult to our expectation that schools are a place of safety, of growth and of respect for civic ideals.
And finally, it is a day to raise our voice in solidarity with these students and their families, and with students and families from all around the united states, to insist that what happened in goose creek on November 5 never, ever happens again at stratford high school or at any of our nations schools.
I would like now to introduce three of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit.
De'nea dykes, Le'quan Simpson, and Sharon Smalls.
Each of them will make a short statement about what happened to them on November 5.
Then, I will have the pleasure of introducing the reverend Iesse Iackson.
Then we will be happy to take questions.
Jesse Jackson Introduction
Reverend Jesse Jackson needs no introduction, but I am honored to provide one.
He is one of the nation's great civil rights leaders.
He is, and has for many years been, the conscience of the civil rights movement.
And he has carried forward the great traditions of compassion, courage and vision that have marked the evolution of civil rights in this country.
We are honored and proud to stand with him today.
The reverend Jesse Jackson.