Student Suspended After Police Dog Smells Drugs - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

03/09/04

Student Suspended After Police Dog Smells Drugs

Has school drug enforcement gone too far? A savannah mother thinks so after her 16-year-old son got suspended. Police say their drug dog smelled marijuana and cocaine on his backpack. It all started with a routine drug check at Jenkins High School yesterday morning. It ended with student Renard Powers getting suspended, based only on a smell. His mother says he is a victim of an overzealous school drug policy.

Renard is your typical 16-year-old. A "B" student, he's in school chorus, and spends most of his free time on his computer. When Jenkins High campus police called his name for a random drug check, he didn't think twice. "They searched our classroom, lined us up outside in the hallway, and had us empty our pockets," he recalled.

Then, the police dog started sniffing his backpack. "They told me my bag smelled like marijuana and cocaine," Renard said.

"This was something that was just bogus," said Renard's mom, Lanore Smith. She says her son has never had a problem in school. "They can check his record. He is a good kid."

When police searched Renard's bag, they found some books and papers, all the normal stuff a kid who goes to school would have. They did not find any drugs but suspended Renard and charged him with passive participation. The school calls it part of its zero-tolerance policy. "Students and parents need to understand that," said school board spokesman James Harvey.

Harvey says the schools trust the judgment of the police and school administrators. "They are the professionals, doing this a long time," he said. "These are people we trust."

"They're professionals," agreed Smith, "but I've seen those dogs screw up, lots of times."

She and Renard hope the school will reevaluate its decision. "I don't want it following him," she said. "He wants to go to college. He wants to do things."

"I'm just confused, cause I'm getting accused of something I didn't do," said Renard.

The first thing Renard says he will be doing is getting a new backpack. His mom plans on fighting the suspension, even if it means getting a lawyer. She hopes to meet with school officials today to clear Renard's name and record.

Reported by: Don Logana, dlogana@wtoc.com

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