HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. -- A Douglas County mother is warning parents to talk with their children about their rights after her son was spoken with at school by sheriff’s deputies without her knowledge.
Ruth Moline says the incident started a few weeks ago at a park two blocks away from the school. Her 15-year-old son and a group of friends were on the playground equipment when one of them made an inappropriate comment.
“They made a bet and one of them said, 'If you lose that bet I get to kill you or he gets to kill you,'” Moline said.
A parent who was nearby heard the remarks, took a picture of the boys and called the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office about the incident.
Moline says she understands the concern.
“I want to be crystal clear: I have no problem with the woman who called the police. She should, and I have no problem with the police doing their job and questioning things because better safe than sorry,” she said.
The next day, Moline says her son was taken into a room at school and asked about the incident by two sheriff’s deputies. His friends were also questioned.
Afterward, the deputies called Moline and left a message explaining what had happened. They left a voice message saying her son was not in trouble but that they did speak with him.
However, the school district never called Moline to tell her about what had happened.
“The school still hasn’t told us anything,” Moline said.
Moline called the school district’s lawyer and was told schools will not get in the way of law enforcement officers questioning students.
“She said, ‘We’re not going to stop them from questioning if they have questions,’ and I was pretty shocked. I had no idea that was allowed and that the school felt no responsibility to be in the room with them or to notify the parents,” she said.
This isn’t the first time something like this has happened to Moline’s sons. Last year, her older son was also asked questions about a separate incident at school involving vandalism. Moline says her son was not involved and did not get into any trouble, but she was disturbed to find out he was spoken to without her knowledge.
Denver7 was told by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office that parents are only required to be in the room with the minor if they are being taken into custody and will be Mirandized and questioned.
A sheriff’s office spokesperson says that whenever a minor is spoken to by deputies, they call the parents out of courtesy, but it isn’t required.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the school district sent this statement to Denver7:
“The Douglas County School District fully cooperates with our law enforcement partners with the shared goal of student and staff safety. When law enforcement needs to question a student at school due to a safety concern, DCSD staff coordinates parent notification with the officer/deputy who is present at the time. In this particular instance, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office directly notified the parents of students who were questioned about a situation that happened off school property and outside of school hours."
But Moline doesn’t think that’s good enough.
“It’s going to happen again. That was made crystal clear from the legal counsel for the district that the school feels absolutely no responsibility. What would make me feel better is if they did feel some sort of responsibility had somebody in the room with them," she said.
A spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Education said there are no overarching policies on student interaction with law enforcement and that it’s left up to the districts.
Denver7 also reached out to several school districts to find out their policies about police interactions with students.
According to the Englewood School District’s policy book, “School officials shall make an effort to notify the student’s parent/guardian, except in cases involving investigation of reported child abuse where the suspected perpetrator is a member of the student’s family, when law enforcement has a court order directing that the student’s parent/guardian not be notified or when an emergency or other exigent circumstances exist.”
The policy for Littleton Public Schools is similar, saying the school must notify parents but going on to say, “If the student is under 18, the student’s parent/guardian also shall be present during the law enforcement interrogation or interview unless: (1) the juvenile is emancipated as that term is defined in state law; (2) the student’s parent/guardian has not been notified pursuant to this policy; or (3) the student’s parent/guardian agrees to the interrogation or interview without being present.”
Moline just wants parents to be aware that this could happen to their children.
“I think parents should know the children have rights and it’s apparently the parent’s responsibility, as it should be, to teach them what their rights are,” she said. “They don’t have to say anything until the parent is there.”