Family Sues After School Suspends 11-Year-Old For 364 Days For Having Leaf That Looked Like Marijuana

| by Jared Keever
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The parents of a Virginia middle school student have filed a federal lawsuit against Bedford County Schools and the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office claiming officials violated their son’s right to due process by accusing him of a crime he did not commit. 

KDVR News reports Bruce and Linda Bay are saying school officials should not have suspended their 11-year-old son for 364 days after finding what was believed to be a marijuana leaf in the boy’s back pack.

Multiple field tests on the single leaf reportedly came back negative for marijuana. 

The KDVR News story relies on information taken from an in depth report from Dan Casey of The Roanoke Times.

According to Casey, the boy, a sixth-grader in the gifted and talented program at Bedford Middle School, was reported, by classmates, to the school’s assistant principal as having been bragging about carrying marijuana in his backpack. When Assistant Principal Brian Wilson questioned the Bays’ son in September 2014, the boy reportedly told Wilson he had nothing in his bag that he shouldn’t have.

 A subsequent search of the bag turned up a lighter and a crumpled leaf. 

Wilson then called the school’s resource officer, Bedford County Sheriff’s Deputy M.M. Calohan to the school. 

After that the assistant principal called Linda Bays at work and told her she needed to come to the school because her son had been caught with marijuana. 

“He told me [my son] had been seen in the bathroom with a marijuana leaf and lighter and that I needed to come to [Bedford Middle School] quickly,” Linda Bays told The Roanoke Times.

She called her husband and they both drove to the school to meet with the assistant principal. 

The couple now says their son has told them repeatedly he has no idea how the leaf got in the backpack, and they suspect it was placed there as a prank to get the boy in trouble. But Willson told the parents at the time that their son had told him a high school student on the bus gave the leaf to him. 

“I asked, ‘Can I see the leaf?’ and the deputy said, ‘No, it’s already in evidence,’” Linda Bays said, remembering the day she got the call.

She says she has still never seen the leaf that got her son in so much trouble. 

Her son, who is only identified in court documents by the initials R.M.B., was eventually charged with possession of marijuana. 

Those charges were later dropped after it was learned that the deputy’s field tests of the leaf all came back negative for marijuana. 

But the school has insisted on continuing the boy’s suspension despite no proof that he ever possessed drugs. They say the distinction may not matter and that under the current wording of school policy, possessing an “imitation” of a drug is enough to get a student in trouble. 

The Bays say their son is now being home-schooled and is seeing a pediatric psychiatrist because he suffers from depression and panic attacks as a result of the ordeal. 

They are suing the sheriff’s department for malicious prosecution. They say their son never should have been charged because the deputy knew the leaf tested negative for marijuana. 

They also say Wilson and the school operations chief Frederick “Mac” Duis violated their son’s rights to due process by suspending him from school. 

“Essentially they kicked him out of school for something they couldn’t prove he did,” said Melvin Williams, the lawyer for the Bays family. 

Jim Guynn, the attorney representing both the school district and the sheriff’s office, says the family has filed the suit in the wrong court. 

“Malicious prosecution is a state claim,” Guynn said. “If you want to make a malicious prosecution claim you need to be in state court.” 

Besides, Guynn told The Roanoke Times, the deputy’s actions were not malicious because she had visually identified the leaf as marijuana. 

The appearance of the leaf should get the school off the hook too, Guynn said. He told Casey the leaf looked very much like a marijuana leaf and that R.M.B. was telling others that it was. That is enough to suspend him under the school policy regarding “imitation” drugs, he said.

Guynn is working to have the suit dismissed. 

Sources: KDVR News, The Roanoke Times 

Photo Credit: Lee Haywood/Flickr, WikiCommons