Court rules detention of youth who reported drug justified

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The Indiana Lawyer on 7/29/16 by Marilyn Odendahl

A probation officer who arrested and detained a middle school student for violating court policy has quasi-judicial immunity against charges of negligence and constitutional violations.

Dawn Krantz filed a lawsuit against Spencer County Juvenile Probation Officer Jan Cochenour, after Krantz’s daughter was taken into custody for allegedly possessing drugs on school grounds. Krantz alleged the officer was negligent and violated Indiana Code section 31-37-5-5, the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution.

The incident began when Krantz’s daughter, A.K., was given Concerta, a prescription medication to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, by another student at South Spencer Middle School. A.K. took the pill home to show her mother, who is a police officer in Rockport.

The next morning, A.K. was called into the principal’s office as one of four juveniles who had possession of drugs on school grounds. Krantz arrived at the school, turned the white pill over to a sheriff’s deputy and explained that according to her research, it was a Schedule II Controlled Substance. She had started an investigation with local police and had planned to contact the school.

In accordance with the policy of the Spencer Circuit Court, Cochenour ordered A.K.’s and the other juvenile’s detention. As part of her deposition, she agreed there was no evidence that it was essential to protect A.K. or the community and she said she had no basis to detain the youngster other than policy.

Spencer Circuit Judge Jon Dartt found probable cause to believe A.K. had committed a delinquent act. However, the prosecutor later informally adjusted the charges and A.K. was not officially charged with any crime.

Krantz subsequently filed suit, arguing Cochenour exceeded her authority by ordering A.K.’s detention.

However, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana granted summary judgment Monday in favor of the Cochenour, Spencer Circuit Court and Spencer County. Chief Judge Richard Young found that although Cochenour was not acting under a court order, she was complying with a court policy that requires probation officers to detain juveniles arrested for possessing drugs on school property.

“By detaining A.K., Cochenour was merely enforcing Judge Dartt’s ‘arrest policy,’” Young wrote in Dawn Krantz v. Jan Cochenour, et al., 3:14-cv-00006. “As such, she should be considered an arm of Judge Dartt, who is shielded with absolute judicial immunity.”

Krantz countered, in part, the policy did not apply to her daughter because she was arrested the day after her possession of drugs, she turned the pill over to her mother before she was arrested, and the police department was already investigating the matter.

“While the facts of this case are unique and suggest A.K. was trying to do what she considered to be the right thing, it is undisputed that A.K. possessed a controlled substance on school property,” Young ruled. “She was arrested for this by Deputy (Jeff) Meredith, so the Policy squarely applied.”

Krantz also tried to argue that Cochenour enforced the policy inconsistently. She offered an exhibit of case reports and officer statements from cases involving juveniles who had drugs or alcohol on school property.

But the defendants were successful in getting that exhibit excluded. They asserted that the only way Krantz could have obtained the case reports was by using her status as a police officer to search confidential juvenile records, which violated I.C. section 31-39-4-2.

The District Court also found the Spencer Circuit Court and Spencer County were not liable because Krantz did not assert any claims directly against either entity.