NSA head says ‘sorry’

Published 10:22 pm Wednesday, March 25, 2009

In a letter addressed to “friends,” on Wednesday, Nansemond-Suffolk Academy Head of School Colley Bell apologized to students and parents caught up in last week’s drug sweep at the school.

Bell said he was sorry for the “inconvenience” that students faced when a police drug-sniffing dog alerted at 25 cars parked on the private school’s campus. He also raised questions about police procedures and implied that the search went beyond the scope that school administrators originally had envisioned.

“The most heartbreaking aspect of this whole matter was that a number of people were swept up in something they, and the school, had no control over,” Bell wrote. “To them, their families and friends I am deeply sorry for the inconvenience.”

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On March 17, 18-year-old Joshua Mullen was charged with possession of marijuana after the Suffolk Police Department’s Special Investigation Team allegedly found the drug in Mullen’s car. He will be arraigned Monday.

The sweep was part of an ongoing relationship between NSA and the police department, where NSA calls for help from the police in searching the school and school property, Bell said in his letter. During the March 17 search, the dog alerted police to the odor of drugs at 25 different vehicles. Search warrants were issued in order to examine the cars. Police found drugs only in Mullen’s vehicle.

In his letter, Bell wrote that last week’s search was “a departure” from what has been done in the past and what was originally understood would occur between the NSA administration and the Suffolk Police Department. The tone of the letter was a switch from a letter sent home after last week’s incident, in which Bell wrote: “In following their procedures and ensuring consistent consideration, the police obtained search warrants to properly enter vehicles.”

“Unfortunately, we experienced what can happen when people are accused of potential wrongdoing,” Bell wrote. “A vast majority of students served with search warrants had what I would term, ‘false-positive’ results from the dogs used by the police.”

Following the drug bust, Debbie George, communication director for the city, was quoted as saying it was not unusual for canines to alert police to odors and not have drugs found.

“Canines alert on the odor of what is there or what was there previously,” she said.

Bell wrote that not only did he find fault in the police department’s methods, but also in their protocol.

“Also, I have to add, that we are very concerned about the threshold of evidence the police used to charge one of our students,” Bell wrote.

George reiterated that police officers were there at the request of the school.

“Suffolk Police conducted a sweep at the request of Nansemond Suffolk Academy administration,” George wrote in an e-mail to the News-Herald. “The sweep was done in accordance with the law. We stand ready to assist NSA again, if requested, in their efforts to maintain a safe and drug-free environment for their students.”

She declined to answer further questions about the matter.

In the conclusion to his letter, Bell reassured parents that the NSA staff is “dedicated to keeping our children safe” and “resolved to confront the dangers that threaten our children.”

Repeated calls to NSA staff for further comment were not returned by press time Wednesday night.

To see the full text of the letter, go to https://www.suffolknewsherald.com/news/2009/mar/25/nsa-head-writes-letter-school-family/