Detention of High School Student on Middle School Campus Upheld By California Court of Appeal

The California Court of Appeal recently upheld a police officer’s detention of a high school student who was on the premises of a middle school shortly after school hours. [In re Joseph F., 99 Cal. Rptr. 2d 767 (Cal. App. 1 Dist. 2000)]

The middle school assistant principal approached a high school student crossing the school grounds at approximately 3:00 p.m. At that time, the uniformed police resource officer who was assigned to the middle school was meeting with the assistant principal. After confronting the student, the principal asked the officer to detain the student so that he could investigate whether the student was trespassing. The officer displayed his badge and asked the student to stop. The student refused to do so. The officer then attempted to apply an arm lock to the student; a struggle ensued, and the officer eventually handcuffed the student.

The student was charged with battery on a police officer, resisting arrest, and simple battery. After being placed on probation, the student appealed, alleging that the police officer was not in the lawful performance of his duty when he detained the student. He also alleged that the police officer did not act reasonably in detaining him on public property. The California Court of Appeal affirmed the student’s conviction and probation.

The California Constitution guarantees students and school staff the “right to attend campuses, which are safe, secure and peaceful.” [Art., Sec. 28(c) of the California Constitution.] In furtherance of this right, outsiders are prohibited from entering or remaining on school grounds during school hours without having first registered with the principal or authorized designee of the school. Furthermore, if an outsider enters a school campus and it reasonably appears to an officer that the outsider entered the campus to commit an act likely to interfere with the peaceful conduct of campus activities, the officer may direct the person to leave. Failure to comply with these provisions is a misdemeanor.

In order to determine whether a person is an outsider on the campus without having registered, or is likely to commit an interfering act, a designated official must be able to stop the outsider and ascertain this basic information. The Court of Appeal held that the police officer had the right to detain the student to determine who he was and why he was on the campus. Furthermore, once the student refused to comply with the officer’s request to stop, the officer reasonably viewed the student’s refusal to cooperate as indicating a lack of legitimate reason for being on the campus. The officer was justified in increasing his effort to detain the student.

The appellate court concluded that "school officials, or their designees, responsible for the security and safety of campuses should reasonably be permitted to detain an outsider for the limited purpose of determining such person’s identity and purpose regardless of ‘school hours.’" The Court rejected the student’s contention that the officer used excessive force in detaining him and determined that, in light of the facts and circumstances surrounding the detention (including the student’s refusal to stop and identify himself and his resistance), the officer did not use excessive force.

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