Several state and local law enforcement agencies participated in drug sweeps at two Monroe County high schools on Wednesday, only to find no trace of illicit substances.
According to the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), Monroe County Superintendent Greg Shehan requested the drug raid from the Monroe County Sheriff's Office.
Monroe County Sheriff Tom Boatwright invited ADOC, Escambia Sheriff's Office and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), as well as the Excel and Thomaston Police Departments, to participate.
The sweeps took place at both Excel and J.F. Shields High Schools. Monroe County High School, also part of Monroe County Public Schools, was not raided.
ADOC reported that law enforcement officers cleared all classrooms, lockers, gyms and parking lots.
ADOC sent personnel from its K-9 Bureau, and dogs were alerted inside and outside in multiple areas. This prompted the officers to search several vehicles. Nevertheless, no drugs were found.
According to ADOC, drug dogs can pick up traces of drugs left by handprints or someone previously in the area who had used drugs. ADOC also said operations of this sort are common.
Because no evidence was recovered, no arrests were made, and officials cleared both schools for any illegal activity.
Under the Alabama Department of Education's "Compilation of School Discipline Laws and Regulations," compiled in June 2022, there were "no relevant laws found" and "no relevant regulations found" under the section titled "Search and Seizure."
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the right of an individual against "unreasonable searches and seizures" and generally requires that law enforcement obtain a warrant before searching through and seizing private property.
The Fourth Amendment is reaffirmed by Section 5 of the Alabama Constitution.
According to My School My Rights, random searches in schools are legal if based on "special, school-wide needs such as ensuring school safety." Searches also cannot target individual students unless there is "reasonable suspicion" that the search will turn up evidence that they violated school rules or the law. However, "reasonable suspicion" lacks a clear definition.
Law enforcement also requires "reasonable suspicion" to use dogs to search for drugs in personal property, like backpacks.
According to LawInfo, "reasonable suspicion" differs from "probable cause" in that "reasonable suspicion" exists when the likelihood of criminal wrongdoing is apparent to a trained law enforcement officer as opposed to a generic "reasonable person."
When searching motor vehicles, police officers only need "reasonable suspicion."
1819 News asked several questions of ADOC about what prompted the drug raids and the legality of the procedure. 1819 News also asked if warrants were obtained for the raid.
ADOC was unable to answer "simple legal questions," and 1819 News was told that ADOC only assisted in the operation. 1819 News was then redirected to the Monroe County Board of Education and the Monroe County Sheriff's Office.
Both offices declined to respond, leaving the "reasonable suspicion" unclear.
The Monroe County drug raid follows the rise of a deadly nationwide opioid epidemic, driven in large part by the drug fentanyl.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is as much as 100 times stronger than morphine. Though pharmaceutical companies produce some fentanyl, illicit fentanyl is sometimes cut into other drugs like cocaine and heroin or added to pills.
According to the Medical Association of the State of Alabama, fentanyl overdose deaths in Alabama rose 136% between 2020 and 2021. Drug Enforcement Agency agents have seized more than 10 million fentanyl pills around the country between May and September.
In November, a student at a high school in Selma passed away after injecting fentanyl and another opioid, according to a toxicology report that was released on Wednesday.
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