Federal judge rules in favor of Trinity Co. sheriff in drug-search lawsuit

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - A federal judge has signed an order dismissing a lawsuit against the Trinity County sheriff who was accused of violating a couple's son's civil rights by searching him for drugs at a high school football game in August 2011.

The lawsuit, which was filed in September, sought unspecified damages for the boy's past and future private education expenses, emotional and mental trauma, pain and suffering, legal fees associated with appealing Trinity ISD's "erroneous ruling," of having him suspended and court costs.

"We feel like the truth has come out. You know, you can allege anything in a lawsuit and that's basically what they did and it came out that they told everything that was absolutely not true. A judge ruled in our favor because their lawsuit had absolutely no merit," Woody Wallace said.

In September 2012, Wallace said the lawsuit was a frivolous one.

"These people have been saying for several months that if I run for sheriff and it looks like I'm going to win, then they would file the lawsuit," Wallace said then.

The petition states the couple's son was 11 years old when the incident occurred in August 2011. Wallace allegedly approached the boy and his grandfather when they were leaving a football game and accused the child of making a drug purchase.

"Despite (the son's) protestations of innocence and the grandfather's objections to Wallace's conduct, Wallace, with probable cause, searched (the son), performed an eye dilation test, and unlawfully detained and questioned the minor child," the petition states.

In a press release issued Monday, Wallace stated he was working the game when he was told by several citizens that they had been offered drugs by someone who had made a sale to a minor. They pointed out the minor as he was leaving the game, so Wallace spoke to an adult who was with the child. Wallace suspected the child had swallowed the drug, so he told the adult he should seek medical attention to him.

"Anytime you are in the public and you are on government property and someone does something that is against the law and you have somebody that comes up to you that you believe is a credible witness that says they just witnessed something or somebody just try to do something--that gives you some reasonable suspicion or even further, some probable cause to determine how far this investigation needs to go," Wallace said. "Anytime I go up to somebody, I have the right to question you at any time, but you also have the right to not answer any questions."

Later that month, the couple received a call from Trinity Intermediate School which informed them that their son was being suspended from school for his involvement in an alleged drug transaction that occurred at the football game, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit states that Wallace had contacted Trinity ISD's superintendent about the alleged drug deal at the football game despite the facts that the son was never arrested, arrested, or referred to juvenile authorities about the alleged delinquent conduct. In addition, no drugs were found on the boy, and he wasn't found to be under the influence of any illegal substances, according to the petition.

"He did purchase a pill and I am required by law, as all law enforcement is, we are required to report to an administrator every time an investigation leads to a student at that school engaging in any kind of criminal activity," Wallace said. "That doesn't mean I have to file charges or arrest the kids cause at 11 years old, I don't think we should be arresting 11 year olds. It was a problem, I thought that the school and the parents could handle."

Even though the parents exhausted their administrative remedies with the school, their son was still referred to the Disciplinary Alternative Education Program for committing a Level IV violation of the school's Student Code of Conduct, the petition states.

The couple also claims that Wallace harassed the family in and around Trinity County during the appeals process.

"At no time was he being...illegally detained. I'm very concerned about people selling drugs to our children at school and we take it very seriously. We're going to follow through every time someone points that out and we're going to do everything we can to figure out who it is and what they're doing and what they're selling and try to keep an 11-year-old kid from ingesting some sort of--any kind of illegal narcotic or drugs," Wallace said.

Wallace said Trinity ISD conducted its own investigation and came to its own conclusion on how to handle it. He said he played no role in how the boy was disciplined.

In an order for summary judgment, Judge Ron Clark stated Wallace acted appropriately in disclosing the events to the school administration.

"It's kind of sad that when law enforcement does their job and they try to protect a child that someone would come up and make false allegations like this," Wallace said. "While I'm relieved that this lawsuit has been thrown out by a federal judge, it's sad to know that parents are against law enforcement trying to do the right thing."

In the answer to the complaint, Wallace's attorney stated Wallace was performing discretionary dui ties and that the only damages to the plaintiffs was their refusal to acknowledge their child's drug behavior.

"It's important to go back and realize in this case that there was an arrest made that day. When it comes to this 11-year-old, all I was trying to do was check to see if this kid had ingested some sort of illegal narcotic, which later on when we made the arrest of another man or another individual, this person told us that he did in fact sell this kid some drugs," Wallace said.

The answer also states Wallace is entitled to full immunity and must report any suspicious activity to the school.

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