Lawsuit: Clovis North staffer asked 2 students to do campus drug sting

The Fresno BeeMarch 17, 2014 

Kelly Racca

SPECIAL TO THE BEE

Two Clovis North High School students have sued the Clovis Unified School District, saying a school employee asked them to participate in a drug sting on campus without the consent of their parents or police.

The plan allegedly hatched by Kelly Racca last March went horribly wrong: after the drug buy, the two students were unlawfully interrogated by police and threatened with arrest, the Fresno County Superior Court lawsuit says.

Racca and another school official then encouraged one of the students to lie to protect Racca from being disciplined, the lawsuit says.

The two students, whose ages and names were withheld to protect their privacy, are seeking unspecified monetary damages on a number of legal grounds, including negligent supervision, false arrest, humiliation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

"It's outrageous what this (employee) wanted them to do," said Fresno attorney Stephen R. Cornwell, who represents the two students, identified in the civil complaint as John Doe and Mary Roe.

Because of Racca's actions, Mary and John, who remain students at Clovis North, fear for their safety; some students speculate that they are snitches, Cornwell said.

Clovis Unified spokeswoman Kelly Avants said Monday she could not comment because the school district had not yet been served with the lawsuit. Though Racca, 36, of Clovis, was listed in the lawsuit as a Clovis North counselor, she was a campus safety monitor at the time of the alleged incident, Avants said. Racca is no longer a campus monitor at Clovis North, but works part-time "in a sub capacity" for the school district, Avants said.

Racca could not be reached to comment. Avants said Racca served as a volleyball coach last season at Clovis North. An online biography said she has a master's degree in counseling from California State University, Fresno.

The lawsuit, filed March 11, spells out the allegations:

A year ago, Racca decided to develop a plan to stop the illegal sales of marijuana on campus. She befriended Mary and asked her to assist in her drug sting.

Racca gave Mary money to buy the marijuana and Racca recorded the serial numbers of the bills in order to link them to the drug seller. "Specifically, she asked Mary to find out the identity of a student who was reported to be illegally selling marijuana on campus," the lawsuit says.

Mary, however, was hesitant to get involved, so she told her friend, John, about Racca's plan. John agreed to help if Racca would assist them in getting an expelled student reinstated into school. "Racca agreed to do so," the lawsuit says.

Following Racca's instruction, John bought marijuana from a student on campus using Racca's money. Mary took a photograph of the transaction to implicate the student. John and Mary later turned over the marijuana and photograph to Racca.

The next day, however, school administrators called Mary out of her class for a meeting with two Clovis police officers. Without notifying her parents, police interrogated Mary and she was told to write her account of the drug buy.

After police threatened to arrest her, Mary waited in the Student Services office for many hours without any explanation of what would happen to her and without her parents being contacted. She was finally allowed to leave without being arrested.

School officials and police officers called John into a conference room and advised him of his Miranda rights. John asked to call his father, but his request was denied. School officials and police then questioned him at length, ignoring his pleas to contact his father. "John was not allowed to leave the conference room during this interrogation," the lawsuit says.

John was not arrested, but some days later, school officials called Mary out of class again and ordered her to write an incident report about the drug purchase. Sometime later, Student Services counselor Wesley Flowers brought Mary to his office, where Racca pleaded with Mary to retract her statements about Racca orchestrating the sting operation, the lawsuit says.

After Racca left the office, Flowers also encouraged Mary "to essentially lie about the event so that Racca would not be subject to criticism by her superiors," the lawsuit says.

Cornwell said Monday neither Mary nor John were advised by Racca that her plan was illegal and a violation of the school district's zero-tolerance drug policy. The two students assumed Racca was authorized to conduct her plan, he said.

Racca also never notified police of her plan and did not have any authority or law enforcement background to conduct a drug investigation, Cornwell said.

In addition, neither school officials nor police advised Mary of her right to a lawyer and her right to refuse to answer questions that could incriminate her, and Racca's actions put the two students in harm's way.

"Racca failed to consider that coercing students to buy controlled substances from another student would potentially expose Mary and John as witnesses ... and subject them to ridicule and harassment by other students and potential physical harm by drug-related gang actions," the lawsuit says.

The Clovis North student's lawsuit mirrors one filed in a Los Angeles case.

In December, the state's 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld a jury's verdict that ordered the Los Angeles Unified School District to pay a student $1 million in damages for emotional distress, as well as $15,250 in economic damages. A civil lawsuit accused school officials of using the 12-year-old as bait in a drug sting at Porter Middle School in February 2009. The lawsuit says school officials gave the student money to purchase marijuana from the drug dealer and did not notify the student's parents or law enforcement. As a result, the student suffered bodily harm and emotional distress, and incurred medical expenses, the appellate court said in a split decision.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6434, plopez@fresnobee.com or @beecourts on Twitter.

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