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Dean Defends Using Student, 12, In Drug Bust Without Police, Parent Approval

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LOS ANGELES (CBS) — A veteran San Fernando Valley middle school dean said on Friday that she was “devastated” after district officials told her she should not have allowed a 12-year-old student to be used in a drug sting without first asking the parents or the police.

Laura Custudio, the dean at Porter Middle School in Granada Hills, told a Los Angeles Superior Court jury that she was surprised by a Los Angeles Unified School Police official’s response when she told him about the February 18, 2009, incident.

“He said it was not a good bust,” Custudio said. “He said, `We don’t use minors in the operative.’ I was devastated.”

The boy, identified in the suit only as Roe, was told to buy drugs from a suspected drug dealer even though the plan was not authorized by police, according to the lawsuit filed in January 2010.

His parents, identified in the complaint as Daniel C. and Reina C., sat behind their attorneys as they listened to the testimony.

According to the lawsuit, the sting was enacted after the boy told school administrators that a 14-year-old was selling marijuana on campus.

Without telling police, the administrators gave the 12-year-old cash and asked him to buy drugs, according to his parents, who are claiming emotional distress and loss of income.

Named as defendants along with Mejia in the lawsuit are Custudio Principal Joyce Edelson and the LAUSD.

In their court papers, defense attorneys say Porter Middle School officials believe they had an obligation to try and stop marijuana sales on campus and they did not intend any harm to the boy or his parents.

In her testimony, Custudio said Roe gave her a note stating the other boy had offered to sell him marijuana for $5.

“All it would take is $5 to get drugs off campus? I’ve got the money, problem solved,” Custudio said she told herself.

Custudio said she got permission from both Mejia and Edelson to go ahead with the plan. Edelson’s response was, “Go for it,” she said.

The woman said she did not consider the alternative approach of demanding that the alleged marijuana seller let her search his pockets and backpack.

“I know well enough he’s not going to put it in a place where I’m allowed to search,” she said.

Custudio at times bristled at the questioning by the plaintiffs’ attorney, Alexander Calfo, criticizing him even for his syntax. The contentious exchanges prompted Judge Terry Green to, at one point, excuse the jury and ask Custudio not to make an issue of Calfo’s grammar.

The 35-year LAUSD veteran repeatedly defended her actions, saying she believed at the time that she was doing something good for the school.

“I saw it as a good way of getting drugs off campus to protect my kids,” she said.

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