Security guards confiscate film during weapons search

FLORIDA — Miami high school officials returned film they had confiscatedin February from a student journalist working on a story about random in-schoolweapons searches — after they developed the negatives.

Leandro Leon, editor of South Dade High School’s newspaper, The Scene, wastrying to take a photo of security guards conducting a search when guardsfrom Vanguard Security, a private security firm contracted by the schoolto perform searches of students, barricaded him in a classroom and confiscatedhis film.

The guards were searching the belongings of students in a classroomafter they removed the students from the room.

“They evidently sealed off all of the exits and thus left me in theroom locked in there,” Leon said.

“[The security guards] repeated, ‘Give me the film! Give me the film!’I refused because of my First Amendment rights, and I tried to explainit to them,” Leon said.

Thomas Coats, activities director for the school, was also in the roomand told Leon that if he gave up the film, he would get it back by theend of the day. Leon eventually handed the film over to Coats.

“I did believe him when he said [I would get the film back],” Leon said,adding that he was tired of being locked in the classroom.

That day, Leon had three meetings with principal George Ellis and otheradministrators whom Leon said tried to dissuade him from calling the newsmedia.

“I said, ‘If I don’t get the film by the end of the day, I’m going tocall the news media,'” Leon said.

But by the end of the day, school administrators had not returned thefilm. Leon called The Miami Herald, which published an article aboutthe incident. The next day, five local TV stations contacted Leon aboutdoing a story on the situation.

Two days after the guards confiscated the film, school administratorsreturned the negatives after they had been developed.

“That’s when I blew it,” Leon said.

Leon said he believes that the school administrator who developed thefilm violated the school district’s student publications guidelines, whichprohibit prior review of school-sponsored publications.

Leon said faculty, students and parents have been supportive of hisrefusal to give up the film. The Februaryissue of The Scene contained a photo developed from the confiscatedfilm, a story about random weapons searches, a staff editorial about theconfiscation and a commentary by Leon.

Michael Krop, vice chairman of the Miami-Dade County school board, calledthe confiscation of Leon’s film censorship.

“The confiscation was done by people who were contracted to use metaldetectors in our schools, ” Krop said. “I think it was [due to] the factthat we failed to apprise them to what should be their proper action. Theyhad no authority to do that.”

Krop said the county will take steps to ensure that this type of incidentdoes not happen again.

“We are going to have sensitivity training courses for [security guards]who get a contract,” he said. “We are going to be reiterating the policyto our own principals to make sure they understand what the board has intended.”

The owner of Vanguard Security did not return phone calls made to hisoffice by the Report for comment.