Students arrested in drug sweep
December 15, 2004
Eight teenagers accused of selling drugs during school hours were arrested Wednesday following a four-month investigation by an undercover agent posing as a South Tahoe High School student.
The arrests occurred minutes after school began. Three teams of law enforcement officers dressed in raid gear went into classrooms of the alleged drug dealers and arrested them.
The undercover agent, a member of the California Alcoholic Beverage Control who pretended to be an upperclassman, bought psychedelic mushrooms, cocaine, marijuana and Ecstasy, authorities said. Prescription pills such as Ritalin, Adderall and Vicodin were also purchased.
South Lake Tahoe police Lt. Martin Hewlett said the drugs the agent bought were in small quantities designed for personal use.
“Obviously, we were able to buy fairly easily there,” he said.
For the sake of safety, the identity and intent of the agent was unknown to many people, including School Resource Officer Johnny Poland, school administrators and district officials. Students learned of the fake student’s true role when the agent took part in the arrests.
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Classrooms with windows that authorities walked past provided a bird’s-eye view of their fellow students in handcuffs. A senior who wished not to be identified, said authorities walked into his civics class.
“Then they’re, like, ‘We need to talk to (a student.) He’s under arrest for selling narcotics,’ ” the senior said.
The eight arrested included one female. Ages ranged from 14 to 17 years old. At least one student was arrested off-campus at a home, Hewlett said.
The eight will be prosecuted as juveniles and charged with felonies, said Assistant District Attorney Hans Uthe.
They likely face expulsion from school but the district’s board of education will make the final decision.
At lunch, confused teachers were given a debriefing about the circumstances.
“We didn’t have any idea what was going on,” said Mike Patterson, the auto shop teacher. “It’s sad, but (the arrests) didn’t surprise me.”
Senior Mari Peshon said she expected the arrests to have a short-term effect on curbing sales.
“It will have an impact, but not a lasting one,” Peshon said. “Hopefully, it will have a ripple effect, but I don’t know.”
Associate Principal Jack Stafford said incidents of dealing drugs at the high school have increased because its population has swelled.
This school year there have been 32 drug-related incidents at the high school, according to the district’s School Safety Coordinator Lisa Huard.
Forty-one high school students have been suspended on drug or alcohol violations. Last year, 101 high-schoolers were suspended for the same offenses.
Uthe said more arrests are “quite probable” as the investigation continues. The agent will no longer be on campus.
To bring the community into the problem-solving process, the district scheduled a 6:30 p.m. meeting Jan. 10 at the high school’s library.
“We need adults in this community looking out for kids, and if they see something wrong, do something,” Huard said.
“It would be nice to say your kid is not involved but how do you know?” she added.