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Gang Sweeps: Did police violate a student’s Fourth Amendment rights?

How would you feel if you were pulled out of your lunch period, taken to the office by police and accused of a crime you didn’t commit?

Taking the scenario a step further, how would you feel if the police proceeded to search your bag and shoot photos of you for their file?

This happened to Kaleb Winston, a 14-year-old in Salt Lake City, Utah, and his parents are saying the school and law enforcement violated their son’s rights.

The protection against unreasonable search and seizure is given to us by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A search can mean everything from a blood test to police searching an individual’s bag, as they did with Winston. But not all searches are off-limits, and schools are one area where courts have said officials have more leeway in searches, such as random locker searches and required drug tests for athletes.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, when he was pulled out of lunch last month, Winston was questioned about the graffiti patterns on his backpack – which his parents bought  at a department store in the fall – and asked about sketches he made in art class, which police said resembled gang insignia. Police also searched his backpack. When Winston told them he was not involved in a gang, the officers said they didn’t believe him, saying teachers tipped them off that he had been spraying “Maze” graffiti around the school.

Before allowing him to leave, the officers took a photo of Winston holding a sign saying “My name is Kaleb Winston and I am a gang tagger,” the Tribune reported. Winston was one of several students questioned as part of the school’s Dec. 16 gang sweep.

Gang violence is a serious problem in schools across the country. Principals and administration have the difficult task of working to prevent it and promote safety while respecting the rights of students. It’s a difficult line to walk, and oftentimes schools that favor more protection are viewed as discriminatory. Last fall, a school district in Colorado was accused of violating students’ free speech rights when it tried to ban crosses and religious symbols – because some gangs had adopted those symbols.

In this case, Winston may have had his right to protection from unreasonable search and seizure violated, and his parents told the Tribune that they hoped the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah would take up their case. They feel that their son was targeted by police because he is black, and that the officers broke a law prohibiting them from photographing minors without a court order.

The police told the Tribune that the gang sweep was motivated after school resource officers observed an increase in graffiti around the school, along with “an upswing in gang attire,” and that the sweep was meant “to dissuade kids from participating in gang activity.”

What do you think?

Did police violate a Salt Lake City student’s Fourth Amendment rights when they conducted a gang sweep? Is it better for schools to favor more protection against gang violence or more protection of students’ rights? Is gang violence a problem in your school? If so, how do the school district and local police deal with it? Could they deal with it better? Join the discussion!
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ST.Johns FL
Switzerland Point Middle
The police did violate the 4 amendment. Kids have a right and if an official does not have a search warrant then he/she can not look through Kaleb's bag. If Kaleb is in a gang the officials would need evidence to search through someones bag. The officer pulled Kaleb out of lunch with no trail.If the mom bought the bag at a department store would you think he is a gang member, If your a police office would you pull out a kid because he has a bag with graffiti and sketches he made in art class. Yes or No

Mike wiz pesky
Carrizo SpringsHigh School
The Police men in this case have violate his rights to the 4th amendment,and the amendment specifically says"No ILLEGAL Searches or seizures" so that mean yes the cops did violate his right, and then to take picture without his or his parents consent, Nombre con mas ganas,they could have just talke to him and asked if they could search or some shit like that

Ball Charter(Middle)
This search was really uncalled for. Seriously, the police need to try to LISTEN MORE OFTEN TO THE PEOPLE instead of doing what they want and jumping to conclusions. Now, I do believe that this did violate Winston's right to privacy. But If it was a locker search? Then that isn't a violating because the locker belongs to the school. Not You. So yes, the search was unreasonable, but it's couldn't have been if it was his (temporary) locker.

Porterville CA
Police should not be allowed to violate a person in that degree. If the police have evidence to prove that they need to search a student or any person then yes search them only if they have evidence. I think gang protection is needed at some schools with a big gang problem but if there is little gang problem then why go to such an extent to violate an individual. Gang violence is not a big problem but there is a problem and the district handles it very well by conducting a dress code and providing strict rules against gang affiliation.

Horrible. Absolutely horrible. Authorities shouldn't be able to do this to a person. Unless authorities have solid evidence of someone being apart of these activities, police should cease from these sorts of actions (this article didn't state any evidence other than his art). In addition, graffiti is extremely popular among youths, so it can just be he enjoys the artwork. I too enjoy graffiti and I am by no means apart or interesting in becoming apart of a gang (I do not enjoy this in a way for vandalism). Now back to the topic, there should have been more evidence presented before accusing someone due to their looks (shouldn't authorities also need a warrant for a search?).

Sidney, MT
Sidney High School
I believe that the police violated the student's Fourth Amendment rights. One reason why i think it violates the Fourth Amendment is that just because he did some drawings in art class, there isn't any evidence that he is in a gang. Graffiti is a form of art and expression and I believe that art should never be used against you in any way. I don't see how the school or police could accuse specific kids just because of what they wear or what they draw in art class. I also think that it could be a little bit of discrimination because he is black. I think that black people get accused of more crimes then whites, just because of their skin color.

I believe that the student’s Fourth Amendment was broken. I highly disbelieve that a 14 year old boy would be in gang related activity. Although such ages are present in gangs but mostly in the bigger cities where it is more common and peer pressure is more in those areas. I believe that the police should have noted that there are many forms of clothing/ apparel that have graffiti designs on them. Yes, the school has the right to notify the police of any signs leading to gangs but they should have obtained a warrant to search him. According the Wall Street Journal, statistics show that the number of graffiti artist has grown from 2,962 to 4,158, so he should not have been labeled a “gang tagger”. Personally, I like this style of art and I would like to learn how.

seattle wa
k.hansen/hrc seattle
I belive that the police violated the student's right and that they first had to gather all the evidence in order for them to accuse him of being involved with gangs. I believe that the police should have taken the proper steps like showing him a search warrant that says that the police could search him and take a photo shot of him like the way they did.

Greencastle, PA
Greencastle-Antrim High School
So I don’t understand what gave the police and the administration the right to search and question him like they did. I understand the fact that the school is trying to prevent gang like activities being brought into the school, for safety, but I don’t think it’s right for them to go about and pin-point kids for certain things they have or do. The school should gather enough evidence first; not just saying a kid is affiliated with a gang because he uses a backpack covered in graffiti.


Greencastle Antrim HS, Greencastle
In my opinion, the student’s rights were violated. I do not feel the police had enough evidence to search the boy or photograph him with the demeaning sign. It clearly states in the fourth amendment that probable cause to search someone, which I feel they did not. The “graffiti” style backpack could easily have been explained as just a new style that actually is quite popular in some areas, and the tagging could have been just the boy’s way of expressing his artistic ability. Is it wrong to tag, yes, but it does not mean that it is gang related. There is actually a current national debate about the difference of gang graffiti and art graffiti, according the Wallstreet Journal, statistics show that the number of graffiti artist has grown from 2,962 to 4,158, so he should not have been labeled a “gang tagger”, as the sign he was forced to hold by the police stated. I feel the boy was illegally searched and probably misunderstood.


GAHS, Greencastle
I believe that the police violated Kaleb’s rights because they had no evidence that he did any of the things of which he had been accused. They picked him because teachers at the school accused him and because of the designs on his book bag. According to findlaw.com, A statute known as Section 1983 is the primary civil rights law victims of police misconduct rely upon. This law was originally passed as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1971, which was intended to curb oppressive conduct by government and private individuals participating in vigilante groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan. It is now called Section 1983 because that is where the law has been published, within Title 42, of the United States Code. Section 1983 makes it unlawful for anyone acting under the authority of state law to deprive another person of his or her rights under the Constitution or federal law. The most common claims brought against police officers are false arrest (or false imprisonment), malicious prosecution, and use of excessive or unreasonable force. There could have been reasonable suspicion in this case but I don’t believe that there was enough evidence to search his belongings just because of things he draws in classes or the designs on his book bag.


Hefner, Greencastle-Antrim High School, Pa
In my opinion, I think that police didn’t have a right to search Kaleb Winston’s belongings. It doesn’t matter if teachers tipped them off about it. I think they should have showed him a search warrant. It was a violation of his fourth amendment because they didn’t have probable cause or have a search warrant saying specifically what was being searched. I feel that this kid should take them to court and I think he will win. It doesn’t matter if the people were police. They have laws to follow just like the rest of us and they should have done it the correct way and not just went in and searched it. But, on the other hand I see where the police were coming from too because he was known to have done graffiti. According to Lt. Ronald Wilson, commander of the Seattle Police Department, Gang graffiti is of a much different thing than just tagging. Which it states that he was spraying maze graffiti kind of like tagging. So I don’t think he is part of a gang. . There wasn’t anything connected to gangs anywhere on his stuff. Police had no right really to make a search of his things. I think if they wanted to make a search they should have had parental consent and had the parents there, not just pressuring the kid to let them search his stuff. This was probably scary for the kid because the police were questioning him. He was probably doing everything they ask because he was scared to get in trouble. So I think that his rights were violated and nothing should happen to him because he wasn’t doing anything wrong.


Hefner, Greencastle-Antrim High School
In my opinion, there was enough probable cause for a legal search of Kaleb Winston’s backpack for sings of gang affiliation. The known fact that he was “practicing” the art of Graffiti, in the shape of known gang insignias during art class, and along with the statements from several teachers; stating that they had seen Kaleb spraying “Maze Graffiti” around school property (graffiti which often has letters jumbled together resembling a maze). In 2003 it was estimated that there were over 60 gangs present in the state of Utah. Upwards of 75% of those gangs are still actively committing crimes today. Not all graffiti taggers are gang members, but the art form still encourages damage of property. However, the manor in which the situation was handled by the authorities is where they are at fault. It is known that before letting Mr. Winston leave, the officers took a photo of him holding a sign saying “My name is Kaleb Winston and I am a gang tagger,” Kaleb at the time being only 14 years old. This brings up the conflict of different laws in different states across the country. I am currently not aware of the laws in Utah, but depending on the seriousness of the crime committed and whether the minor was arrested, the given officer has the ability to photograph him or her.


Sidney High School, Sidney MT.
I dont think this was right at all. They had no evidence that this kid actually did this, they just chargered him with no trial that the kid should have gotten

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