Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Tic Tacs Apology Offered

By Andrea Schoellkopf, Journal Staff Writer

An off-duty police officer was reprimanded for not following procedure when he searched a middle school student accused of having drugs on the bus.
It turned out that the student only had a box of Tic Tacs.
The family of Scott Mills, now a Taylor Middle School eighth-grader, also has received a written apology from Albuquerque Police Chief Raymond Schultz after an investigation by the city's Independent Review Office.
"A preponderance of the evidence convinces that the off-duty officer should have called dispatch and either requested an on-duty officer to handle this issue or informed an on-duty officer what he was doing," independent review officer Jay Rowland said in the Sept. 8 letter to Joan Waters, an attorney for the Mills family.
Scott Mills had been ordered off a school bus and searched by an off-duty, out-of-uniform police officer, Rudy Llamas, after another student accused him of having drugs, though he had been sharing candy with friends.
His parents filed a lawsuit after failed attempts to learn the identity of the officer and the circumstances surrounding the search. The lawsuit alleged unreasonable search and seizure, excessive force, negligent hiring and supervision, negligence and defamation.
The Mills family announced last week that they planned to drop their lawsuit after the city began cooperating with them. They had reached a settlement with the bus company, Durham D&M, earlier this summer.
Waters said Monday while the police investigation supports the family's claim, they have no wish to pursue litigation and she doesn't believe Scott's constitutional rights were violated.
"The system works," Waters said. "And as an attorney, I'm pretty jaded. I had heard good things about the police chief and they're all true."
Arlette Mills said Tuesday she was "elated" to receive the letters from the city— which had both been written and mailed prior to the family dropping the lawsuit.
"I am glad that somebody got it," Mills said, "and they're going to fix it so it doesn't happen to the next person.
"I basically got an apology, I never thought I would get."
Schultz had written a letter Sept. 7 to the Mills family, indicating the officer had been disciplined in the matter and it would be noted in his permanent record.
"I would like to thank you for bringing this matter to our attention," Schultz wrote. "It is unfortunate that you had an unfavorable experience with a member of the Albuquerque Police Department; however, I would hope that this one incident does not taint your total impression of the department."
Rowland's letter said the investigation was made based on the complaint and an interview by the officer.
"In my opinion, there was no probable cause for a search for drugs, even a minor stop and frisk for drugs," Rowland said. "But I do not believe the officer should be disciplined under these circumstances for an illegal search."
Such a search, he said, would be acceptable on school grounds where the rules are "quite relaxed" on searches of children.
But he recommended that the police— in the future— require reports of all searches, pat downs or any touching of a minor.
The Mills family also had written the city with a similar request.
Rowland's letter also detailed the circumstances of the search.
According to the letter, Llamas was off-duty but driving a marked car. The bus driver— who had driven toward the police car— motioned for him to help her, telling him that two boys had marijuana.
The officer patted down both boys— found no drugs— and removed a case of Tic Tacs from Scott's pocket when he suspected a possible weapon.
A middle school girl riding the bus told the officer the drugs were in the candy case, but the officer determined there were no drugs.

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