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West Valley Police, ACLU reach settlement in ‘gang sweep’ case involving former West students

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Posted at 4:40 PM, Dec 07, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-08 11:11:20-05

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — The West Valley City Police Department and the American Civil Liberties Union have agreed on a settlement in the case of alleged prejudice brought by three former West High School students Monday.

The complaint stems from a 2010 incident where officers came onto the West High campus and performed a “gang sweep.”

The plaintiffs say students were questioned on school property, interrogated about gang affiliations and photographed holding signs listing their alleged gang affiliations.

All information was then entered into a police database, according to a press release from the ACLU of Utah.

All students detained, interrogated and documented that day were racial minorities, the release states.

The case prompted a class action lawsuit by the ACLU of Utah and the ACLU of Justice Program.

The three students will get a total of $50,000.

“While the monetary part of this judgement is gratifying, we brought this case to change the way police do business, especially the way they treat kids of color,” stated Kevin Winston, father of one of the three plaintiffs. “We hope West Valley City Police Department will make real changes to make sure that their officers treat all kids fairly and respectfully, especially in school.”

West Valley City Manager, Wayne Pyle, released the following statement in regards to the case:

“West Valley City had one officer participating on a multi-agency federal task force that it neither supervised or controlled. This case was not and has never been about West Valley City. It has been about the actions of this task force and West Valley City was a very small part of that. Our city agreed to the $50,000 judgment because of our limited role in the case. It made no financial sense to continue to pay legal fees on the defense. We do not acknowledge any liability and we do not admit to any wrong doing.”

While the case has come to an end, the ACLU of Utah and Racially Just Utah, a partner organization working on racial justice issues in local schools, outlined policies for West Valley City to adopt:

• There should be a written prohibition on allowing gang unit officers to visit elementary, middle, and high schools during school hours for the purpose of detaining and interrogating students about alleged gang affiliation.

• West Valley should not allow police officers to interrogate and search kids at school unless the officer believes a child has committed a crime, and should require that a parent or guardian be present for any questioning.

• West Valley City PD should discontinue and prohibit, immediately and absolutely, the practice of taking “mug-shot” style photos of juveniles holding whiteboards containing information about their purported gang affiliations and monikers.

• West Valley City Police Departments and partner schools should regularly review school-based arrests and interventions (including the racial demographics associated with such actions) for assessment and improvement. This information should be shared and discussed with community stakeholders.

“The gang sweep at West High was a wake-up call for many parents and community members,” stated Nubia Pena, coordinator of Racially Just Utah. “We don’t have to compromise kids’ rights and dignity to protect their safety. The data overwhelming shows that those compromises and indignities disproportionately fall on kids of color.”

Policy solutions for West Valley City and other interested cities can be found on acluutah.org.

“Achieving racial equity in policing is about more than spoken assurances: it takes concrete action and commitment. Written policies must be enforced at the department level, and at the same time, meaningful training must be provided to root out inequitable practices at the individual level,” stated Courtney Bowie of ACLU’s Racial Justice Program.