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Name: In re. K.J.
Case #: A147478
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 4
Opinion Date: 01/03/2018

Minor’s detention on high school campus by police officer working as campus resource officer and backup officer called to assist was lawful under the Fourth Amendment detention standard that applies to “school officials.” Acting on an anonymous tip that the minor was carrying a loaded gun on campus, the principal removed him from class. He was handcuffed and searched by a police officer who was a campus resource officer and a backup officer who had been called. The officers found a firearm and a magazine with several rounds of ammunition. The People filed a delinquency petition alleging that K.J. was found carrying a loaded weapon at school. His motion to suppress the evidence was denied and the allegation in the petition was sustained. On appeal, K.J. argued that the detention and search violated his Fourth Amendment rights. Held: Affirmed. Because of the special setting of schools, and their obligation to provide a safe environment for all students and staff, a school official may detain a student for questioning without reasonable suspicion, so long as the detention is not arbitrary, capricious, or for the purpose of harassment. For purposes of Fourth Amendment analysis, “school officials” include police officers who are assigned to high schools as resource officers. Here, the Court of Appeal concluded that “school officials” also include backup officers who are called to assist campus resource officers. Based on the circumstances of this case, the conduct of the law enforcement officers was reasonable. The possibility of a student carrying a firearm on school grounds poses a grave threat to the lives of students and staff and the officers’ actions in removing K.J. from class and handcuffing him were minimally intrusive based on this threat.

Information provided by anonymous tipster constituted reasonable grounds for suspecting that a search would turn up evidence that minor was violating the law or the rules of the school. K.J. argued that the search was not justified at its inception because there were no reasonable grounds for suspecting that he was carrying a gun—the information leading to the search was based on an anonymous tip and was therefore unreliable. The Court of Appeal disagreed. A search by a school official is “justified at its inception” if under “ordinary circumstances” the information constituted “reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence that the student has violated or is violating either the law or the rules of the school.” (New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985) 469 U.S. 325, 341-342.) There are situations where an anonymous tip, suitably corroborated, exhibits sufficient indicia of reliability to provide reasonable suspicion. Here, reasonable grounds existed for suspecting that the search would turn up evidence that K.J. was carrying a gun. The anonymous tip came from a student on the same campus who sent a text message to the vice principal reporting a person with a loaded gun. The vice principal knew the identity of the tipster, but declined to identify her out of fear for her safety. After the vice principal requested additional information, the tipster provided a description, stated that she knew the person but did not know his name, and learned about the gun by seeing a video of him sitting in a classroom with what appeared to be a gun and an ammunition magazine. When the vice principal provided the names of two students may have met the description, the tipster identified one of them as the person in the video. These circumstances were sufficient to show the reliability of the tip. Additionally, even if the indicia of reliability of the informant’s tip here was marginal, the search was reasonable based on the “extraordinary dangers” presented by the possibility that a student was brandishing a handgun at school.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: