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Drug search of school stymied
Miscommunication blamed for confrontation
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A miscommunication led to an awkward moment and frayed nerves as representatives from MACE, HPD and drug dog units from Long and Chatham counties were turned away from what was supposed to be a pre-scheduled drug sweep of a high school here.
According to a Hinesville Police Department incident report, Bradwell Institute Principal Dr. Vicki Albritton allegedly delayed the search to the point that law officers thought it would be futile. The confrontation was just after 8 a.m. on April 24.
Albritton said protocol had not been followed, that she had not been informed, not even to start locking down the school before the officers arrived.
In the incident report, HPD Officer Kyle Lairamore said he and Officer Damien Butler were approaching the front office to inform the administrators that MACE and assisting agencies would be arriving within minutes.
Lairamore said as they began to speak with an administrator, Albritton approached him and allegedly yelled, "They are not coming today. This is a bad week to do this."
As the officers followed her to her office, Lairamore got a call from an agent saying the others were on their way. While on the phone, the officer alleges Albritton interrupted him, saying the search was not going to happen, adding she had not been notified as required by protocol. According to the incident report, Butler said he remembered school administrator Tony Norce had informed Albritton of the search, but said he did not know when it would happen.
Albritton reportedly told the officers she was going to call the chief and board of education.
As MACE and the assisting agencies arrived, Lairamore said he and the other HPD officers began to patrol the halls. Within minutes a MACE agent got a call from his unit commander, telling him MACE was informed by Liberty County Chief Deputy Keith Moran to not conduct the search and to leave.
As the HPD officers and K-9 units left, Lairamore saw the principal talking to one of the agents. They were told to standby as they might conduct the search after all.
After 20 minutes, school administrator Alex Hogan told the agencies they were allowed to come in and search part of the school; the parking lot and three hallways.
At that point the agent in charge called off the search because the investigation had been compromised.
Butler later reported that Bradwell administrators conducted their own search for cell phones and other electronic devices.
"There was some break down in communication," Moran said. "And the best thing to do at that point was to reschedule."
"No building administrator or school resource officer was notified by the team, not even with a 5 minute notice, which is protocol," Albritton said. "The miscommunication, which was isolated to this one incident, has been resolved. We continue to appreciate the support of all local law enforcement agencies. We could not accomplish our mission of educating students without their support, and they have been very quick to respond whenever we have requested their assistance."
She said she continued the search with faculty because the stage had been set for the drug sweep.
"Building administrators opted to continue the search as we had 15-plus faculty members on their planning block that had been called to assist. The lockdown had already been called and students are not to have cell phones with them during the day."
Students are supposed to keep cell phones in their lockers during the day.
Mary Alexander, assistant superintendent for student services, also said there was a break down in communication and in how a former MACE commander and the current MACE commander informed schools of impending searches. She said she had spoken to Moran and the search was reschedule so the matter could be handled appropriately.
"Regrettably, the confusion occurred," she said. "We were hoping to get things corrected before the agents arrived, but they were already on their way. Considering all things it was best to tell the chief to cancel and reschedule."  
She said since the incident, MACE and the BOE have worked everything out to the satisfaction of all parties involved and search protocols have been clarified.
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