UPDATE: Students arrested in ongoing investigation

Lauren Mitchell

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A nearly two month investigation by the Newton Police Department (NPD) and Harvey County Drug Task Force drew to a close on Jan. 17 at approximately 9:45 a.m., when 11 students were arrested for previous distribution of illegal substances on school grounds. The substances included marijuana, Xanax, Oxycontin and hydrocodone.

Principal Lisa Moore said she was contacted by the Police Department to begin the investigation as a result of ongoing parental and staff concerns about student drug use and distribution.

A detective and officer for the Harvey County Drug Task Force purchased drugs from high school students over the course of the investigation, leading the department to obtain arrest warrants by the end of last week.

“We worked on identifying lots of students who we were suspicious of, but also students who were working with other students in the building. Our students were making deals with an undercover officer, and they got to meet that officer face-to-face today…They would ask me names and I would give them names and that’s how it happened, that’s how we came up with the list of students who sold drugs,” Moore said.

While arrest warrants were being served during the scheduled lock-in, combined efforts with canine units resulted in the search of the parking lot and locker sections.

We had NPD, the Sheriff’s Office, and the Hesston and North Newton PD involved as well…as the dogs were searching lockers…we had arrest warrants for 11 Newton High School students. Three were adults and eight were juveniles,” Harvey County Sheriff Chad Gay said. “We had a couple of arrest team officers going to classrooms with administrators and pulling students out and arresting them on warrants. All of this was simultaneously going on.”

At the conclusion of the search and arrests, the three adult students were taken to the Harvey County Jail, while the eight younger students will be placed in juvenile detention centers.

All arrested students, likely facing the higher felony count of distribution within one thousand feet of a school zone, will attend expulsion hearings.

“My prediction is they will all go on probation, will all get fined and will all be expelled from school,” Gay said.

From the district’s perspective, promotion of a safe and healthy learning environment for students was at the forefront of this initiative.

“Students have a right to come to school and be safe. We’re not talking about weapons and safe, we’re talking about not being asked all the time if you want to do drugs or if you want to buy drugs,” Moore said.
Gay said there is a possibility for continued Harvey County Drug Task Force presence at the high school following the Jan. 17 conclusion of the investigation.

“I don’t know if it is completed, but it certainly was a project that we thought we could make happen, and it did. You will still have school resource officers in the schools and see a law enforcement presence in the school. The drug officers, it depends. If we can buy more drugs from high school students, then we’ll do it,” Gay said.

Gay believes a joint community effort is necessary to address the issue of illegal substance use and distribution at the high school.

“For the school, it’s a tough thing to admit you have an issue. To expose it like this, for me I really want this to get out so that people know that we did this and so our community can know that this is going on at the high school. The community needs to step up and see what we can do to try and help,” Gay said.