SAN ANTONIO – North East Independent School District police officers repeatedly threw marijuana and other THC products confiscated from students into school dumpsters and trash cans, a months-long probe by KSAT Investigates found.
The practice calls into question the handling of evidence from felony drug offenses as well as raises concerns that drugs and drug paraphernalia were at times put in areas accessible to the public, including children.
KSAT analyzed 371 NEISD PD reports covering all of 2022 for possession of a controlled substance - penalty group 2, which includes Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana.
The records show officers seized the drugs, often in the form of THC vape pens, and would then discard the items after testing them for the presence of drugs instead of placing them in a department evidence room.
Officers typically rinsed out the THC liquid from vape cartridges before throwing them away and usually took steps to discard the items in trash cans only accessible to NEISD faculty and staff.
An NEISD official pointed out that testing the devices for the presence of THC makes them inoperable.
However, the reports also confirm incidents in which an officer repeatedly threw “leafy marijuana” in a school dumpster and a second incident in which a gummy infused with THC was discarded into a faculty trash can.
In multiple other reports, no information was provided by officers about where the seized drugs ended up.
“It should not have happened. It just should not have happened. The officers are all fully aware of how the discarding of products is supposed to work,” said NEISD Executive Director of Communications Aubrey Chancellor.
Chancellor confirmed the department has now introduced retraining and new protocols for drug seizure cases.
“We’re glad this was brought to our attention so that we could take the opportunity to relook at things to see if that is really the best practice and moving forward that isn’t going to occur anymore,” Chancellor said. “Moving forward, all of the officers are going to take anything and everything and take it back to the evidence room.”
NEISD officials declined to make Police Chief Wally McCampbell available for an interview for this story, stating that he was “extremely busy” with the day-to-day operations of running the department.
14 vape pens, marijuana grinder seized. No charges filed.
The reports also show that officers were hesitant to criminally charge students for possession of THC and instead would allow school officials to handle cases administratively.
In September, after a student at Reagan High School was found with two Cake brand vape pens in his backpack, an administrator found 12 more vape pens, a grinder with marijuana residue and rolling papers in the student’s vehicle.
After an officer tested one of the pens for the presence of THC, the contraband was destroyed off campus.
The student, however, was not criminally charged “due to the Bexar CO. DA’s office policies,” the report states.
A spokeswoman for the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office said in a written statement that the DA’s office accepts for review any THC case as long as it is accompanied by a lab report verifying THC concentration.
Possession of any amount of THC is a felony in Texas, with the severity of the charge increasing based on how much of the drug is seized.
Defendants can also face harsher penalties if they are found in possession of the drugs in a drug-free zone, which includes school campuses.
Chancellor confirmed the incident was not handled properly by the officer or supervisor and that type of “failure” has been addressed.
Last March, a student at Legacy of Education Excellence (LEE) High School found a THC vape pen in a restroom trash can and later gave it to another student to try, records show.
In September, after a student at the same school was found with two vape pens, an officer tested one for THC and then threw it in a dumpster after it tested positive for the drug.
The report does not state what was done with the second smoking device.
At the same high school in October a student showing signs of being under the influence was found with “green leafy” marijuana and a vape pen that later tested positive for THC.
The marijuana and vape device were then both tossed into a dumpster by the same officer from the September incident, the report says.
Just days later, again at LEE H.S., the same officer found a student in possession of “green leafy” marijuana and a THC vape pen.
After confirming the vape pen contained THC the officer again threw it and the nearly four grams of marijuana into a dumpster, the report states.
That same month, at MacArthur High School, a student got sick after ingesting a marijuana gummy given to her by another student.
The second student was found in possession of a gummy, which tested positive for THC.
The officer then tossed the gummy and the test kit in a trash can only accessible to staff, the report says.
Chancellor declined to say what, if any, disciplinary action NEISD PD officers faced for improperly handling drug evidence.
How do other large districts handle THC seizures?
NEISD’s past practices for THC drug seizures are not in line with the other large school districts in San Antonio.
Like NEISD PD, Northside Independent School District police field test substances for the presence of THC.
But the similarity in protocols ends there.
NISD police photograph the contraband and seal it in an evidence envelope. The evidence is then turned into the NISD police evidence custodian who logs it digitally into a report writing system and then physically places it in the secured evidence room.
“The evidence will only leave this secured evidence room to be tested by a forensic lab, to be presented in court, or to be destroyed after a court order has been completed,” an NISD spokesman said in a written statement.
A spokeswoman for San Antonio Independent School District confirmed THC vape pens are handled the same way as any other seized narcotics. The items are held as evidence until being sent out to be destroyed in a contained incendiary device.
At Judson Independent School District, if a student is arrested for possession of THC, the vape device is submitted to the Bexar County Crime Lab.
If no criminal charges are filed, the device is stored as evidence until a court order is signed to destroy it, a JISD spokeswoman confirmed to KSAT.
‘I’m hurt and I’m angry and I’m scared for children’
Destiny, who asked that her last name not be used by KSAT, enrolled her daughter at MacArthur High School late last fall because it offered Japanese language courses.
But after a pair of incidents this winter in which her child was found under the influence at school, Destiny is now looking to move her daughter to a different school.
“I’m very pissed. I’m hurt and I’m angry and I’m scared for children,” Destiny said. “They are the scariest things in my life. I am a single mom.”
In January, Destiny received a call from the school that she needed to come pick up her daughter.
“They tell me it’s an emergency and I need to be there with my daughter because she’s incoherent and needs medical attention,” Destiny said.
After destiny took her daughter to an emergency room, a drug screening showed she had THC in her system.
The teen admitted to taking Benadryl with her friends and later conceded that while in school they use vape pens, but was not certain if they contained nicotine or THC, according to Destiny.
Late last month, Destiny said she dropped off her daughter at school early so her child could eat breakfast on campus.
“She walked in fine, healthy, clean backpack,” Destiny said.
Destiny said her daughter and some friends then left campus to get snacks at a gas station and met a man who offered to buy them alcohol.
Destiny said she reached out to the school after receiving a call from a student that her daughter may not be on campus.
Shortly after Destiny arrived at school and found out her daughter was not in class, she said she got a call to return and pick up her daughter who was back at school but showing signs of intoxication.
Destiny said her daughter was so inebriated she was brought out in a wheelchair and provided a bag for throw up.
“They buckled her up and handed me the barf bag and said ‘take care of it,’” Destiny said.
A return visit to an emergency room revealed that the teen had an ethanol level of .221, which is nearly three times over the limit to operate a motor vehicle.
The teen was written up for using alcohol and being in possession of matches/lighter and an electronic vapor device, discipline records viewed by KSAT show.
District officials recommended she be sent to an alternative high school for 45 days due to “an allegation of serious or persistent misbehavior,” the paperwork states.
Destiny said she is contemplating removing her daughter from the district.
“It’s not something that my daughter was known for before she was in the environment that MacArthur allowed,” Destiny said.