Police are feeling some heat today after an undercover drug bust at a high school is receiving way more attention than they ever imagined. They aren't under more scrutiny because their sting was so successful, but rather because it sounds like they made a critical error in judgment. Undercover officer Deputy Daniel Zipperstein befriended, goaded, and eventually arrested a 17-year-old autistic student. For this, the police are now on the receiving end of a massive lawsuit.
In a story that will twist your heart, the autistic boy had a hard time making friends at school. When his new "buddy" started begging him for access to his prescription medication or to buy him marijuana, he initially said no. Eventually, worried he'd lose his only friend, the kid relented, acquiring half a joint for the officer. Guilt stricken, he refused to do it more than twice, and as a result, the officer dropped the boy like a hot rock.
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After his subsequent arrest, the student wasn't allowed to see his parents for two days. His parents described looking into their son's eyes and seeing damage that they can't ever imagine dissipating. If this undercover deputy's job was to befriend students, surely in the process, he would have realized that he was dealing with an individual who was exceptionally vulnerable and easy to pressure. I'm not saying that buying the drugs was a smart thing to do, but in this case, I think it's understandable. How is baiting and arresting an autistic student different than any other form of entrapment?
This is an example of just how innately flawed these undercover operations are, especially at high schools. To manipulate an emotionally vulnerable and easily influenced group like teenagers seems crazy. To be so blind that you'd go after an autistic student really underlines this problem. Using the schools as a way to find out where the drugs are coming from is one thing, but arresting over 20 students, as was the case here, doesn't seem to be doing anything other than traumatizing an already at-risk demographic.
Do you think the cop was right to go after this student even though he had autism, or was it unethical?
Image via .victor Casale./Flickr