We are the Morgans of Vienna, parents who had the dream of a fun high school graduation party, free of alcohol, for our son, Kurt St. Clair, and his fellow graduates.
When we were growing up there were youth centers, school-sponsored activities and parties at our friends' homes. Today, these safe alternatives are hard to find for our children.
We have often wondered why there aren't more parent-sponsored parties for their children and friends. Now we now know why.
It was with a safe alternative in mind that we consulted Fairfax County police about our graduation party plans and asked for their help and advice. A Reston police sergeant told us we would not see the police unless they received a complaint from our neighbors. He asked for our address, so he could send an officer by with a brochure on party tips. We gave it to him, thinking the brochure a good idea.
The events that followed have been widely publicized in the past week. The party wasn't 30 minutes under way when plainclothes officers, dressed like students and mingling with the crowd, took two students away from the group and charged them.
The kids were confused and scared. Then several uniformed officials walked in. Some started taking pictures. Imagine our surprise when we discovered the officer in charge was the same "helpful" sergeant who had told us over the phone that the police would not cover our party unless they received complaints from neighbors.
Shocked and amazed, we discussed with him the steps we had taken, and were continuing to take, to preserve an orderly party: we had posted a sign that said "Please, No Alcohol"; the DJ was asked to announce that no alcohol was permitted; we had begun to intensify the checking of students as they entered. Other adults at the party were emphasizing to the teen-agers that no alcohol was allowed.
After the police left, we extended the music another hour to give the kids time to calm down, dance and enjoy the food. After the party was over, Retha, who had cooked hot dogs most of the evening, sat down to relax and had a nightcap. When we realized a roadblock had been set up at the top of our hill, Retha and her sister, both concerned for the students, went to see what was happening.
Retha identified herself to the officer at the scene. He then said, "You're not on your property anymore. You're on my property." Retha's sister said, "Let's go." But the officer responded, "She's not going anywhere." He then ordered Retha to bend backwards, extend her arms, close her eyes and touch her nose. She performed these tests without difficulty. He then told her to blow into an instrument. He did not tell her or anyone the results of that test. Retha was then handcuffed, taken to jail and detained for the night. No other tests were given. No rights were read. When Bob Morgan got to the jail, the magistrates' office said Retha would stay in jail for the night.
What are some of our thoughts now?
We keep wondering why the police misled us by telling us we had planned the party well. There are indications that the police planned in advance to have plainclothes officers infiltrate our party.
It is alarming to read and hear statements by the commonwealth's attorney's office and the police that differ so much from what we know really happened. Do officials think we would be protesting if things had occurred as they say?
Surely in a county such as Fairfax one would not expect the police to exhibit an "I got ya" attitude, but one of "let's work together."
The police never used the term "open party" in their discussions with us, or in the literature they provided. They did not caution us that we planned too large a party. Are they now to dictate standards for the size party citizens can have?
If parents like us cannot feel secure in offering their homes for celebrating a major milestone in their children's lives, what alternatives does that leave? Many of the youth at our home could have ended up at an unchaperoned beer bust on an empty lot. If our children don't have safe alternatives to the streets, we are all but lost. -- Retha and Robert Morgan