Sheriff's Department Sued By School District After Autistic Boy Arrested In Drug Sting

By McCarton Ackerman 05/08/14

Jesse Snodgrass was goaded into selling pot to an undercover officer, an all too commonplace occurrence that's spurred by police departments trying to boost narcotics arrest numbers.

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A Southern California school district has sued the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department for goading an autistic student into selling pot to an undercover officer, resulting in his arrest and expulsion.

Jesse Snodgrass was arrested and charged with selling .6 grams of pot last spring, prompting Chaparral High School to expel him. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department typically sends in two deputies bi-annually to do drug deals with students, but one of the deputies was accused of hounding the teenager and essentially trying to get him arrested.

Rolling Stone reported that Snodgrass complied with the request for drugs because "forging friendships was normally so hard for Jesse, who had the cognitive skills of an 11-year-old and was nearly oblivious to the facial expressions, body language, vocal tones and other contextual cues that make up basic social interactions.” His parents quickly sued, claiming that their son was “permanently scarred” from the drug sting and its aftermath. In addition to autism, Snodgrass suffers from bipolar disorder, as well as other impulse and anxiety disorders.

A judge overturned the expulsion and a separate judge dropped the criminal charges last July. Snodgrass was ultimately allowed back on campus and graduated last semester. However, undercover drug stings in schools are becoming more commonplace, despite the often suspect motives for them.

"Any increase in narcotics arrests is good for police departments. It's all about numbers,” said former LAPD Deputy Chief Stephen Downing. “This is not about public safety — the public is no safer, and the school grounds are no safer. The more arrests you have, the more funding you can get through federal grants and overtime.”

A 2007 Department of Justice-funded meta-analysis also slammed undercover drug stings in schools. The report called them a “stopgap measure” and an expensive waste of police resources which "may prevent the use of other, more effective problem-­solving techniques.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.