Police: talking to minors for probe not illegal
February 20, 2002
Accusations by some local parents that the Truckee Police Department has been using questionable investigating tactics have only heightened tensions over a controversy that has polarized the community.
The issue surfaced a little more than two weeks ago when three local adults were charged with allegedly contributing to the delinquency of minors and with furnishing alcohol to approximately 40 local high school students at a party in November.
Tahoe-Truckee High School varsity girls’ soccer coach Michael Holman, 46, assistant coach Eric Paul Jitloff, 21, and parent Mark Ross, 43, were all charged Feb. 5 by Nevada County District Attorney Michael W. Ferguson with the misdemeanor counts. They will appear in Nevada County Court for a hearing March 4 at 9 a.m.
The charges stem from a party in November in a Glenshire home, celebrating both the boys’ and girls’ soccer teams’ victories at the Nevada 3A State Championship.
Part of the TPD’s investigation, which began after a concerned parent reported the incident to authorities, involved questioning minors — often in the absence of their parents — who had been in attendance or had knowledge of the party.
“I didn’t even know my son had been questioned until about a month ago, and an officer had approached him way back in November while he was at a friend’s house after school,” said Johanna Lasseter-Curtis, wife of the TTHS boys’ varsity soccer coach and mother of a team member.
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“I’m not sure what the laws are about [questioning minors without parental consent], but there should be a law that protects kids in these situations.”
According to TPD Chief Dan Boon, however, there is no law that prevents an officer from questioning a minor in the absence of their parents.
“However, if a minor says that they want their parents to be present, we honor that request,” Boon said.
Jill MacGregor, whose daughter plays soccer and attended the party in question, said most teens don’t think of things like that when they’re in situations like a police interrogation.
“They’re not going to think, ‘Oh, my parents should be here for this,'” said MacGregor, whose daughter was questioned by police while at school. “Another problem is that without a parent or lawyer present, they might not understand the implications of what they’re saying.”
Another issue is that the students weren’t being interrogated or treated as suspects, and therefore, the usual legal rights do not apply.
“Since they weren’t in a custody situation, weren’t in danger of incriminating themselves and weren’t being treated as suspects, it wasn’t necessary or appropriate for us to inform them of their Miranda rights,” Boon said.
Julie Pratt said she was appalled when her children called her at work after an officer had interrogated her children while they were home alone.
“My 11-year-old answered the door and let him in because he didn’t know what to do,” Pratt said. “My son then woke up my daughter, who was sleeping at the time, so the cop could talk to her. Why couldn’t he have called first or set up an appointment?”
Not all police encounters during the investigation were negative, or the same, according to Lasseter-Curtis.
“The officer that talked to my husband was very courteous,” she said. “And another woman I talked to did have the officer ask her for permission to talk to her child. So there’s a range of experiences that people have had with this.”
Local criminal attorney Dale Wood said although the law is a bit of a “gray area,” police legally do have the right to question a minor in this situation without parental consent.
“Legally the police have a right to do this, however, morally, I feel it’s wrong,” said Wood, who will represent one of the suspects in court. “I think the laws should be changed.”
While some students were approached in their homes, many were approached at school.
Boon said that each campus has a strict policy regarding police questioning students on campus, though, and that officers were notified of that policy and adhered to it.
“From my understanding, the officers never went into specific classrooms and just yanked people out of class, but rather handled the investigation according to school policies,” Boon said.
Boon said he would direct parents with concerns about police handling of the investigation to contact the department.
“We have a procedure in place for those who feel that an officer performed some act of misconduct,” Boon said. “They can file a report and all complaints will be investigated. If an officer steps out of line, people need to tell us about it. I’ll be the first to take action on it.”
No formal complaints against the investigation had been filed as of Tuesday, Boon said.