“We felt like our family was totally violated by the sheriff’s department and the school district,” says Doug and Catherine Snodgrass of Temecula, California. Last December their 17-year-old autistic high school son was arrested after twice buying marijuana for an undercover Riverside county police officer.
Their son, who wished to remain unnamed, is noticeably handicapped and has been diagnosed with autism as well as bipolar disorder, Tourettes, and several anxiety disorders.
“Everyday is a challenge for him,” says his father.
Their son’s list of disabilities have many in the community wondering why he was targeted in this undercover drug operation.
The ordeal began on the first day of school last fall. The family had just moved to a new neighborhood and their son began his senior year at a new school, Chaparral High, in the Temecula Valley Unified School District. Their son rarely socialized, so his mom was thrilled when he announced that he had made a new friend in art class on the first day of school.
“We were so excited. I told him he should ask his friend to come over for pizza and play video games,” says Catherine Snodgrass, “but his new friend always had an excuse.”
His new friend, who went under the name of Daniel Briggs, was known as “Deputy Dan” to many students because it was so apparent to them that he was an undercover officer. However, to their son, whose disabilities make it hard for him to gauge social cues, Dan was his only real friend.
Dan reportedly sent 60 text messages to their son begging for drugs. According to his parents, the pressure to buy drugs was too much for the autistic teen who began physically harming himself.
The Snodgrass’ son finally agreed to buy Dan the pot. Dan give him twenty dollars and it took him three weeks to buy a half joint of pot off a homeless man downtown. This happened twice. When Dan asked a third time, their son refused and Dan cut off all communication.
“Our son was pretty broken up about that and he was back to having zero friends,” says Doug Snodgrass.
On December 11, 2012 armed police officers walked into their son’s classroom and arrested him in front of his peers. He was taken to the juvenile detention center, along with the 21 other arrestees, where he was kept for 48 hours. First hand reports claim that the juvenile center was caught off guard by the large number of arrests and that some youths had to sleep on the floor, using toilet paper as pillows.
Their son was also expelled from high school.
The Snograss’ hired a private attorney and took their case to court. In January, he was found not guilty due to extenuating circumstances. The judge had him undergo informal probation and perform 20 hours of community service.
In March, an administrative judge ordered their son to be reinstated into school stating that the district had left their son “anxious and alone” to defend for himself against an undercover police officer.
The school district is currently appealing this judge’s ruling, stating that their son was cognitive enough to know right from wrong. The school district has a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to drugs.
The Snodgrass’ son was unable to graduate with his class last spring but is expected to graduate this December. By the time the school district’s appeal goes through, their son would have already graduated. The Snodgrass’ say this is an entire waste of tax payer money. The Temecula Valley Unified School District declined to comment.
The family is suing the school district for unspecified damages. The lawsuit will be filed on October 30.
“This has been devastating to our family. It’s a real drain on our resources emotionally, financially, physically,” says Doug Snograss. “It’s exhausting, but when your child gets harmed like this, you really don’t think twice about it. It’s not a matter of getting even. He is messed up by this and what happened is wrong. We feel an obligation to restore him in every way possible.”
Their son was the only arrestee to be reinstated in school, largely thanks to his parents’ perseverance and their financial ability to take their fight to court. The other special needs students arrested remained expelled and at least one served a year in jail.
Doug and Catherine’s son is currently being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by the ordeal.
The Snodgrass’ have set up a fundraising campaign for their legal expenses.
The Riverside County Sheriff’s department and Special Investigations Bureau did not return several requests for an interview. The Riverside District Attorney’s office declined to comment.