Police on shaky ground for child porn interviews

June 1, 2012 6:12:01 PM PDT
Police could be on shaky ground for interviewing students in a child porn case without parental consent this week.

San Jose police questioned more than 30 students at Will Rogers Elementary School. The interviews were done at school in connection with a sexual predator investigation.

Some South Bay parents were outraged when they found out police had questioned their children without permission and now they're wondering if the interviews were legal.

"When police talk to a student in the school setting, the police either have to have a warrant, parental consent or some sort of emergency circumstances, and none of those appear to have been present in this case," said ABC7 News legal consultant Dean Johnson.

The interviews occurred after a suspended third grade teacher was arrested for possession and manufacturing of child pornography. Police wanted to make sure there weren't any victims of that, or worse, at the school.

Police told the San Jose Unified School District not to tell parents, until after the interviews were done. But before the letters went home, some parents found out through the news media, or kids at the dinner table.

Parent Alberto Rodriguez left the school in frustration Thursday after getting no answers from the principal.

"What upsets me is our kids are getting pulled out of the classroom, getting interviewed by detectives and as a parent, I feel I have the legal right to know what's going on with my child," Rodriguez said.

Without a warrant, consent or emergency circumstances, police and the district could be on shaky ground, Johnson said. But there's only one case laying out those rules.

Police questioning of kids without parental consent was challenged in an Oregon court case that ultimately made its way to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The result does allow police to talk to kids without parents knowing about it, but with some conditions.

"It may well be that the police have violated the students' constitutional rights but that one Ninth Circuit case was not reviewed by the Supreme Court and it's unclear what other courts would do in this situation," Johnson said.

In the short term, rattled parents are just worried about the impact of the interviews on their kids. Licensed family therapist Tara Fields said parents should try to stay neutral and contact school counselors.

"Get the facts first," she said, adding that parents should try to find out more details about the circumstances, such as who was in the room during the interview, what kind of training they had and whether the interview was videotaped.

Police have said the detectives did have some special training in these kinds of interviews. Police did not return calls on Friday and the school district's lawyer declined to comment.


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