Utah man sues over 2010 gang sweep at son's school

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 13, 2012 9:19 PM

By Jennifer Dobner

SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - A Utah father sued police and the Salt Lake City School District on Thursday over a 2010 gang sweep at his son's high school, charging that officers detained, searched and interrogated about 40 minority students without good cause.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City on behalf of Kevin Winston and his son, Kaleb, who was a 14-year-old freshman at West High during the sweep in December 2010.

"I am bringing this lawsuit because I want to help make sure that what happened to me doesn't happen to any other student," Kaleb Winston, now 16, said in a statement released by the ACLU.

The boy was held by police, interrogated and photographed holding a sign that read: "gang tagger," and was not allowed to call his parents, despite having no affiliation with a gang, according to the lawsuit.

The teenager was among about 40 students of African-American, Hispanic and Pacific Islander descent interrogated by police. The information gathered was entered into a local gang database held by police, the lawsuit said.

The suit contends Winston and the other students held by police suffered mental and emotional distress, along with humiliation, anxiety and stress.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Salt Lake City police, the Salt Lake City School District, Salt Lake County's Unified Police force and other community police departments whose officers are members of a county-wide gang task force that documents known area gang members.

Representatives for the school district and Salt Lake City police declined comment on Thursday and Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said his office was not involved in the sweep.

ACLU Legal Director John Mejia said Winston was so uncomfortable at school after the sweep that he worried about carrying a backpack and believed that teachers held a heightened suspicion of him.

He left West High for a time but has since returned, Mejia said, adding the lawsuit followed two years of investigation into the incident.

The lawsuit alleges that police and the school district violated Winston's constitutional rights that protect him from discrimination and unreasonable search and seizure. It also charges that school district officials were not legally justified in asking police to conduct the search.

It was not clear whether similar gang sweeps had occurred at other Utah high schools, Mejia said, adding, "We want to change these policies and change them permanently."

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Cooney)