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Police involvement helps protect children’s rights

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When officials at Indian Creek High School found out someone was threatening students and persuading them to send nude pictures of themselves, they immediately started asking students what they knew.

At first, officials thought whoever was threatening the students was an adult. But when they asked one student if he knew anything about the threats, he started acting strangely.

School officials started to suspect the student was threatening his classmates, and they immediately called Trafalgar police.

Police officers read the student his Miranda rights, questioned him and eventually arrested him on charges of intimidation and possession of child pornography, Indian Creek High School Principal Maria Woodke said.

Anytime Indian Creek officials believe a student may have committed or been involved in a crime, they ask police to join the investigation and conduct the questioning, Woodke and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson director of learning and instruction Andy Cline said.

“When all else fails, it’s always better judgment to involve the police to make sure we’re meeting the letter of the law,” Cline said.

When administrators at Johnson County’s six school districts hear about potentially dangerous situations, such as the six bomb threats at Center Grove, Clark-Pleasant and Greenwood schools and the Central Nine Career Center, they call 911 and start working with police immediately.

In non-life-threatening situations, such as when a principal hears that a student might be dealing drugs, school officials typically start interviewing students about what they’ve seen or heard. That way the principal can determine if the tip is true, and school officials can consider what kind of punishment the student should face, Franklin Superintendent David Clendening said.

But anytime school officials think that a crime has been committed, they need to contact police so that trained investigators can take over the investigation, Johnson County Prosecutor Brad Cooper said. If they don’t, that can prevent Cooper from being able to charge a student who has committed a crime, he said.

Last month, two Franklin Community Middle School students were arrested on charges of dealing prescription drugs at school. But they couldn’t be charged because they weren’t read their Miranda rights or given the chance to meet with their parents before they were questioned by school officials while a police officer was present. The law says that students must be read their Miranda rights and have an opportunity to meet with their parents if they’re being questioned for a crime, otherwise nothing they say can be used as evidence in court, Cooper said.

At Center Grove High School, a student was arrested in April after a bomb threat was found at the building, even though surveillance footage and interviews conducted after the arrest showed the student had nothing to do with the threat, Cooper said.

Police officers are trained to know what they have to do before questioning someone about a crime so that what they say can be used as evidence in court, which is why schools should contact police anytime they believe a student may be guilty of a crime, Cooper said.

Cooper is willing to meet with school officials anytime they have questions about how to properly investigate crimes at their schools, and he would like to meet with officials at all schools once the school year is over to ensure they know what to do if a bomb threat, drug use or another crime is reported so that Cooper can prosecute those responsible.

Center Grove Superintendent Richard Arkanoff plans to meet with Cooper on Friday to discuss how school officials can ensure they’re following the correct procedure if a crime is reported at school.

“I want to make sure what we do is in line with what the prosecutor’s office wants,” he said.

Clendening said that he’s willing to meet with Cooper to ensure school officials, police and the prosecutor all know what’s expected when a crime is discovered.

“We all want the same thing — a safe community,” Clendening said.

Franklin police and school officials started meeting after Cooper said he wouldn’t charge the two middle school students to ensure both sides knew what they needed to do when investigating a crime at a school, Clendening and Franklin Deputy Police Chief Chris Tennell said.

“Unfortunately, this case was a lesson for us,” Tennell said.

When school officials at the middle school realized pills were being passed out, a Franklin police officer already was conducting an unscheduled walk-through of the building, and the officer was present when school officials questioned the students they believed were passing out the pills. Because the students weren’t read their Miranda rights or given the chance to meet with their parents, Cooper decided not to file charges.

School officials and police thought they were following proper procedures when questioning the students. Part of the problem was court cases in and outside of Indiana have had different outcomes regarding when students’ confessions are admissible as evidence. In some cases, statements by students who weren’t read their Miranda rights and who weren’t able to meet with their parents were still used in court, while in other cases students who weren’t read their rights had their statements thrown out, Tennell said.

When school officials hear that a student may have broken the rules at school, they need to investigate what happened to verify whether the student actually did something wrong and how they should be punished, Clendening said.

Now, if school officials also believe a student may have committed a crime, they’ll immediately have police do the questioning, Clendening said.

“We’re not trying to do the police officers’ job, and they’re not trying to do our job,” Clendening said.

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