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Springfield family takes school drug lockdown case to the U.S. Supreme Court

Updated: 2013-07-15T17:25:50Z

The Associated Press

— Three years after a Springfield high school was placed on lockdown while deputies brought in a dog to sweep for illegal drugs, a recent graduate is still taking up the fight against what he believes was a violation of his constitutional rights.

Central High School students in April 2010 were ushered into the hallway while the classroom and the backpacks and purses left behind were sniffed. No drugs were found, but the search sparked a court battle in which the school district and sheriff's office have prevailed so far.

"It just raised a bunch of questions to me, like why are they searching my stuff?" Connor Mizer, a 2013 graduate, told The Springfield News-Leader. "Who gave them the right to search my stuff? What jurisdiction did they have?"

Mizer immediately went to his mother, Mellony Burlison, and her then-husband City Councilman Doug Burlison in 2010. They filed a lawsuit against Springfield Public Schools and the Greene County Sheriff's Office that also named Superintendent Norm Ridder, Sheriff Jim Arnott and Central Principal Ron Snodgrass. The suit alleged Mizer's Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure were violated.

The late U.S. District Judge Richard E. Dorr dismissed the case in January 2012 after finding in favor of the district and sheriff's office "on all counts." An 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel later upheld his decision.

Now Mizer and the Burlisons are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to "review the district policy of mass searches without warrant or individualized suspicion," said Jason Umbarger, the local attorney working with the family.

"Students do not lose all their rights at the schoolhouse gates," Umbarger said.

Officials with the school district and sheriff's office said they are frustrated the petition has been filed with the Supreme Court, mainly because of the continued cost to taxpayers who have paid about $180,000 so far.

"The biggest thing is the expense," said Arnott, who estimates at least $60,000 in legal fees and $20,000 in staff time. "In a tight budget, these things are tough to defend even when you're right."

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