Attorney claims LCHS violated student's rights
By Jake Armstrong
Claiming that a La Canada High School official coerced a ninth-grade student to confess that he possessed marijuana on campus, an attorney for the student's family is drafting a civil rights complaint against the school, alleging the official slandered, libeled and conspired against the student.
Additionally, attorney David D. Diamond claims that school officials routinely offer cash to students in exchange for information on students who possess drugs on campus.
School officials this week roundly rejected Diamond's claim that students are bribed to turn in fellow pupils but refrained from commenting on the other allegations, citing right-to-privacy concerns. A school resource called the allegations "extremely odd."
According to Diamond, the 14-year-old student received a five-day suspension Feb 25. after a bag of marijuana was found in a couch inside Assistant Principal Joanne Davidson's office.
The boy, whose name is being withheld due to his age, was called into Davidson's office that morning. His backpack and pockets were searched and no drugs were found, Diamond said. Later that day, the boy was again called to the office when marijuana was discovered in the couch, Diamond said. He was then allegedly forced into signing a statement saying that the bag was his, Diamond said.
Diamond said no one found marijuana on his client or saw him put it into the couch.
The boy has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Diamond claims school officials "preyed on his instabilities and insecurities" to get him to confess. He said the boy maintains that the marijuana was not his and took a drug test with the family's doctor that showed that he had not used marijuana.
Diamond said he has hired a private investigator who found several students who claim school officials have offered them bribes to turn in students with drugs or falsify evidence and make up stories about other students. He said one student was given $50 by a school security guard to say that his client possessed marijuana. He said that student will be a witness if the matter goes to trial.
Davidson said that allegation couldn't be further from the truth.
"This allegation is absolutely not true," Davidson said, "Fortunately for the safety of the school campus, students feel comfortable talking willingly to staff members about a variety of issues, including other students who may be in possession of drugs."
Asked to comment on Diamond's allegations, Principal Dr. Michael Leininger said, "Whatever he wants to say in the paper is his choice."
Both Davidson and Leininger said they respect the student's right to privacy and would not give further comment on the allegation that he was forced into a confession.
Chris Deacon, a resource deputy at the high school called the allegations "extremely odd" and said he has never heard of high school administrators employing such measures when a student is accused of possessing drugs.
Deacon defended the actions the school took, saying, "They wanted to give this kid every fair chance to seek treatment and to do what is positive for the kid,"
Citing privacy concerns, Board of Education President Andy Beattie would not comment on the matter, but said no similar allegations have been brought to the board's attention in the past.
No criminal charges have been brought against the student, Deacon said. Superintendent Dr. Sue Leabo did not return repeated calls placed to her office. Repeated calls to the boy's family were not returned.
The boy returned to school March 4 and has since signed a statement rescinding his confession, Diamond said. A claim has been filed with the school, Diamond said. He said the lawsuit would seek an unspecified amount for damages and a removal of the suspension from the boy's record.
"All the family really wants is an apology, quite frankly.", Diamond said.