A student approached campus security officer (CSO) Charles Johnson, who was assigned to Richmond High School in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. The student informed Johnson that she had been on an AC Transit bus the day before when another Richmond High School student, T.H., pulled out a gun and shot someone. Johnson related this information to school administrators, who directed Johnson to detain T.H. and determine if he had any weapons.
Johnson went to the security office to call Richmond police for assistance, and found Sergeant Russell of the Richmond Police Department already visiting for an unrelated reason. Russell advised Johnson to locate T.H., but not confront him, and to determine where his locker is located.
Johnson met with CSO Driscoll, who was in charge of lockers. Driscoll noticed that T.H.'s assigned locker is not the one T.H. "hangs around." Driscoll had seen T.H. in front of locker number 2499 several times. On the day of the reported shooting, Driscoll had seen T.H. and his girlfriend facing the lockers in that area during a time they were not supposed to be in the hallway. Driscoll also advised Johnson that students often shared lockers to hide drugs or other contraband.
Johnson, Driscoll, and Russell went to locker 2499 to search for weapons. They opened locker 2499 and found books, but nothing else. Russell told Driscoll to check adjacent lockers since T.H. frequented the "area" around locker 2499. Driscoll opened locker 2501, an adjacent locker, which had a backpack. They removed the backpack and noticed the butt of a sawed-off shotgun.
Meanwhile, police found T.H. on campus and confronted him. T.H. stated he had a handgun in his nearby backpack, which officers verified. School investigators searched the backpack from locker 2501 that contained the sawed-off shotgun and discovered it belonged to another minor, J.D. Police eventually met with J.D. to read him his rights, which he waived. He admitted he owned the shotgun and stated it was for his protection because he had been bothered by other students at the school.
J.D. tried to suppress the search that turned up his shotgun, since it was a search for T.H.'s weapon and he had a different locker. The court held that the search of the locker was reasonable. The court explained that the steps taken by school administration and security staff, to determine if T.H. was on campus with a weapon and to inspect lockers T.H. could use to conceal weapons, were both narrow and focused, based on T.H.'s identification from another student and the area of school he frequents. Also, it was reasonable to suspect an alleged shooter might have access to lockers officially assigned to other students. The court concluded that the fact that J.D., rather than T.H., had stored an illegal weapon in locker 2501 did not make the search illegal.
The court also noted that it had no concern regarding the involvement of the police officers, since their roles were all secondary to school administrators seeking to secure the school premises from potential for violence. The CSOs, who did call for and receive assistance from the police, were acting under directions from the Richmond High School administrators.
For a student search to be reasonable, a school official must have reasonable grounds for suspecting that the student has violated or is violating either the law or school rules, and the scope of the search must be reasonably related to the objective of the search under the circumstances. As this case illustrates, when a reasonable search turns up unexpected violations by other students, the search is still reasonable as to the additional students found out.
In re J.D. (2014) __ Cal.App.4th __ [2014 WL 1478598].