Native students put on 'lockdown' by drug dogs
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FRIDAY, JULY 26, 2002

LOCKDOWN: Student drawing, Shenona Banks, 6
LOCKDOWN: Student drawing of Sarah Zephier, 6
Nearly 20 Native American students in South Dakota who claim they were "terrorized" by drug-sniffing dogs filed suit on Thursday against a school board located near the Yankton Sioux Reservation.

The students -- some as young as six -- accused the Wagner Community School in Wagner of violating their constitutional rights and singling them out because they are Indian. "The school is a little bit too prejudiced for me," said David Marshall, one of the 17 named plaintiffs.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit on behalf of the students and their parents. The Wagner School Board, the Wagner Police Department and Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb were named as defendants.

The dogs, according to the ACLU, were owned by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. "McCaleb bears ultimate responsibility in his official capacity for the actions of law enforcement officers employed by his agency," the complaint, filed in federal court in South Dakota, states.

The students, who range in age from six to 16, came forward after what they described as a "lockdown" imposed by school. Dogs, which had already been sniffing lockers, were brought into classrooms in May to search the kids and their belongings, according to the lawsuit.

The practice frightened a number of the children, some of whom were in kindergarten at the time. According to Sarah Zephier, 6, one of the dogs broke loose and began chasing students around the classroom until the teacher told the police to leave. In another kindergarten classroom, students cried and one "urinated involuntarily," the complaint stated.

The searches were "particularly traumatic" for older students as well, according to the lawsuit. None were allowed to leave the classroom during the "lockdown" and were afraid of German shepherd dogs characterized as "wild" and "kind of smelly."

Marshall, 16, was a ninth-grader at the time of the incident. He plans to transfer to Marty School, the Yankton Sioux Tribe's school, rather than return to Wagner.

The ACLU wants the court to forbid all dog searches in the future. They also claimed compensatory and punitive damages but didn't cite a monetary figure.

Relevant Documents:
Shenona Banks et al. v. Wagner School Board (7/25)