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Salt Lake City Police, School District Settle Lawsuit Over West High Gang Raid

Edgar Zuniga Jr. via Creative Commons

The Salt lake City School District and the Salt Lake City Police Department have reached a settlement in a lawsuit stemming from a 2010 gang sweep at West High School.

In December 2010, officers with West Valley City and Salt Lake City Police Departments entered West High School and selected students for interrogation. They photographed students holding whiteboards identifying their alleged gang affiliations. According to the ACLU of Utah, which filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of three students, all of the young people detained and documented were of Latino, African-American or Pacific Island descent.

ACLU Legal Director John Mejia says the students feel gratified to see something positive come out of the incident. 

“These measures are not just meant to just stop something like what happened that day,” Mejia says. “But also will really help us to sort of put a halt to what we call the school-to-prison pipeline, where students end up sort of getting funneled into the criminal justice system and away from school.”

As part of the settlement the Salt Lake City Police Department has pledged to no longer conduct such operations in Salt Lake City schools and will expunge the records of students identified in the raid.

The school district has agreed to amend its policies regarding gang-related activity. In a statement, Salt Lake City School District Spokesman Jason Olsen said they will continue to work with the community develop more culturally-sensitive practices in the schools and strengthen relationships with the children and families of Salt Lake City.

West Valley City was removed from the lawsuit in December when officials agreed to pay $50,000 to the students. Mejia says the ACLU is still encouraging West Valley City to also heed the settlement terms.

“Because we really feel like, as one of the largest and more diverse cities in Utah, it’s important that the police take similar steps that the Salt Lake City Police did today, to ensure that they’re respectful of students regardless of race, color, ethnicity and so on,” Mejia says.

The three plaintiffs in the case will receive more than $100,000 to resolve their damage claims and cover attorney fees.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said in a statement the settlement is a “win-win” for the department and the community. 

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