School, Police Officer Falsely Accused Student of Drug Possession

Chapter 1: Case Overview.  April 21 to May 18, 2016.  On April 21, 2016, the world of sophomore Jakayla Johnson fell apart. Out of the blue, a school resource officer (SRO) accused her of marijuana possession at Garner Magnet High School. She was suspended for 10 days and recommended for long-term suspension for the rest of the school year – all for the alleged “smell” of marijuana.

The SRO was a Garner police officer assigned to the school under this contract between the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) in Cary, North Carolina, and the Garner Police Department, among others.

Jakayla’s ordeal started when a male SRO interrupted her Chinese language class. After his 5-minute investigation, he proclaimed, in front of about 30 of her classmates, that he smelled marijuana on her fingertips.

According to Jakayla, the SRO then took her to Assistant Principal Mr. Bundens’ office. During ABC11’s interview with her, she said (the assistant principal) sniffed her hands and commented that he could smell marijuana.

Next, a female SRO searched Jakayla’s bookbag and inside her shoes. She found nothing.

Jakayla’s mother, Tameka, said Mr. Bundens and the male SRO also took Jakayla to a female assistant principal’s office where the AP patted her down. The AP found nothing.

Jakayla said, in order to reduce her suspension to five days, she had to reluctantly attend a drug education or rehabilitation class as if she did take drug.

As a nurse, Tameka took Jakayla to have drug tests right the way. The tests – on drug and alcohol – came back the next day: negative.

School officials ignored physical evidence of no drug

Tameka showed the test results to the school officials. They ignored them, she said. At this point, she knew she needed outside help.

On the day of the incident, she already contacted advocate Diana Powell in the community. Diana then joined hands with long-time education advocate Geraldine Alshamy to advocate for both Jakayla and Tameka.

Along with Tameka, Diana and Geraldine requested a Level 1 grievance meeting with Mr. Bundens. Nothing came out of the meeting.

Then Geraldine helped the family file and request a Level 3 grievance – appeal hearing – with the School Board.

On May 5, 2016, CBS17 made Jakayla’s case public by interviewing her and Tameka.

One month after the incident, on May 18, 2016, Geraldine represented Jakayla and Tameka at the hearing. It lasted for 4 hours at WCPSS’s headquarter in Cary, NC. In the end, with simple logic and reasoning, Geraldine was able to exonerate Jakayla from the wrongful accusation of drug possession.

It was such a victory that ABC11 aired the story and interviewed Jakayla and her mother.

However, the news story did not tell: What exactly were the compelling logic and reasoning that made the four judges at the hearing side with an advocate instead of the SRO and school officials at Garner Magnet High School?

After all, if parents and students choose to appeal their cases at all, they often do not experience such a victory in WCPSS.

To be continued…


About the author

Shirley Tang has devoted her life to students’ success. Drawn from personal experience, she founded uCANcomplain – an organization and platform that helps parents with children facing peer/adult bullying and discrimination in K-12 public schools. Shirley is an Educational and Civil Rights Advocate, a Mentor, Journalist, Policy Watchdog for the local community, and Former Educator. Her passion is to empower parents and students in seeking their voice, truth, redress, and school accountability. Shirley’s goal is to equip students for success by ensuring they receive a sound education and equitable opportunities.

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