The state will pay $95,000 to nine basketball players and some of their parents and guardians who claimed State Police officers from northeastern New Mexico violated their civil rights during a search of their belongings while they competed in a basketball tournament in Des Moines, N.M., the Raton Range reported.
A settlement agreement between the plaintiffs from To’hajiilee, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, and the New Mexico Department of Public Safety called for the payment of the $95,000 in exchange for dropping the federal lawsuit that was originally filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque in July 2007, the Range said.
The original defendants were State Police officers Alan Apodaca, who was based in Raton, and David (Ben) Romero and Donald O’Connor, based in Clayton, who were providing security at the basketball tournament that was being hosted by Des Moines on March 3, 2006, the paper reported.
Apodaca was dropped from the suit in October 2007, and the DPS was substituted for Officers Romero and O’Connor for purposes of the settlement, according to the Range.
The suit alleged that the officers illegally searched the To’hajiilee players and the team bus after the coach of Albuquerque’s Temple Baptist team reported that some of his players’ belongings had been stolen from the locker room, the Range said.
According to the lawsuit, the To’hajiilee team members were the only ones searched and that the officers lined them up in the gym in front of spectators, then ordered them to the locker room where their belongings were searched withour their consent or probable cause, the paper reported.
“Fortunately, our young clients know that the police cannot just willy-nilly accuse them of a crime and then detain and search them. They also know there is something very wrong when police arbitrarily turn their power against Native Americans and no one else,” Jane Gagne, ACLU co-legal director, told the Albuquerque Journal at the time the lawsuit was filed.
The lawsuit said the Temple Baptist coach told the officers that the search was not necessary, and the missing items — an MP3 player, a couple of CD players, a wristwatch and about $35 in cash — weren’t found during the searches, the Range said.
The settlement was reached during a settlement conference last month before the case was scheduled to go to trial on Dec. 8, according to the Range.
“I’m unsure why our Native American athletes were singled out, because in the time it took to search us, anyone else in the gym could have cleared things out,” Frank Larrabee, To’hajiilee head coach, told the Journal when the suit was filed in July 2007.