Drug Sting at School Nets Teens

Drug Sting at School Nets Teens
Posted by FoM on January 13, 2000 at 08:32:54 PT
By Todd Stone, Arkansas Democrat- Gazette
Source: Arkansas Democrat
The local police had heard the complaints, the fears of parents, teachers and students. They told tales of illegal drugs, violence and gangs at Texarkana's Arkansas High School.  "We had heard from parents about major problems in the school. We heard that drugs were rampant," Police Chief Bob Harrison said.
  In response, police assigned an undercover officer to infiltrate the 1,000-student school in August, where he could mingle with students, learn the system and see crime from the inside.  That six-month investigation has led to the arrest of about 25 youths and adults, most facing charges related to the buying or selling of illegal drugs.  Twelve students were arrested Tuesday at the school, and 10 others were picked up at home, police said.  Some students are accused of selling marijuana and cocaine on school property, and one student sold a semiautomatic weapon off campus, Texarkana police Lt. Mark Lewis said.  Investigators said they are pleased that crime at the high school was less than they originally thought.  "There were no obvious indication of gang-related violence, weapons violations or serious breaches in security involving the student body," Harrison said.  Police spokesman Glenn Greenwell said, "We found out our schools are in good shape with the exception of a few individuals."  Jerry Moody, superintendent of the school district, said he is grateful the arrest numbers were not higher.  "Police could only find criminal activity in less than 1 percent of the student body," Moody said. "Often folks are of the opinion that the Arkansas-side school district is a hot bed of criminal activity."  Officer John Van Meter made his first undercover appearance to spearhead the investigation. He said he had to turn back the clock to play the role.  "I completely changed my appearance, changed my personality and tried to revert back to what I did when I was that age," Van Meter said.  Lewis said going undercover was the only way to nab the students.  "You can't gain their confidence as readily as you could with adults," he said. But a student or someone posing as one gave them someone to confide in.  Some of the arrested students had said they suspected the interloper was a law officer, Lewis said. "A lot of them were surprised. Some of them made the obvious comments: 'We knew he was a narc.' "  But their suspicions were not great enough for them to change their behavior, investigators said.  Those charged range in age from 16 to 18. About half are students at the high school, and most will be charged as adults, said Carlton Jones, Miller County assistant prosecutor.  "We have dealt with these numbers before, but never where we had to process that number of juvenile cases with these kind of charges at one time," Jones said. "It has kept us busy."  Most of the suspects face a felony charge of possession of drugs with intent to deliver. One person was charged with simultaneous possession of drugs and a firearm after selling the undercover officer the weapon for $300. One Ashdown High School student also was arrested.  Parents milled in and out of the police station Tuesday to inquire about bail for their children.  "There's been some obvious denials on the part of parents. There have been some who have been supportive of the police operation," Lewis said.  Van Meter made about a half-dozen drug purchases on campus, Greenwell said.  Most of the drug deals began with contacts made at the school; then the officer would complete the deal elsewhere, which led to the arrest of a few nonstudents.  "We simply had an officer who was able to make numerous drug transactions based on activities at the campus," Greenwell said.  Principal James Floyd said the sting was necessary to build confidence in the school and community.  "I think this shows we're serious about not having drugs in the campus. We owe it to our students and parents to keep this place as safe as possible," he said.  Both police and school officials hope drug activity will soon decrease at the school.  "I would be surprised if a student would be foolish enough to try any drug trafficking after today," Moody said.  Information for this article was contributed by Lori Dunn of the Texarkana Gazette and by The Associated Press.  Texarkana USAArticle Published on Thursday, January 13, 2000Copyright  2000, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc. 
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