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The confounding case of Gary Tudesko

Gary Tudesko was expelled for shotguns in his truck parked off school grounds. Courtesy Susan Parisio

Gary Tudesko never thought an early-morning duck hunt before school could turn into a potentially explosive legal battle involving the Fourth Amendment, the California Code of Education and federal "Gun-Free School Zone" laws.

But when the 17-year-old junior at Willows High School in rural northern California stowed his and a friend's unloaded shotguns on the back seat of his Chevy Silverado and went to class on the morning of Oct. 26, it set off a chain of events that led first to Tudesko's suspension from school, and, at the end of November, his expulsion by the school district for violations of California Code of Education mandates against possession of firearms on school property.

Except that Tudesko's truck wasn't parked on school property that morning, and he never possessed a firearm on grounds belonging to the Willows Unified School District.

On Tuesday, Jan. 19, in an appeal to the five-person Glenn County Office of Education Board, Tudesko, his mother Susan Parisio, and civil rights attorneys Chuck Michel and Hillary Green from Michel & Associates in Long Beach will attempt to reverse what Michel — the California lead council for the National Rifle Association and California Rifle and Pistol Association — calls "a total injustice, and an example of a zero-tolerance policy carried to the point of ridiculousness".

Rewind to Oct. 26

On the morning of Oct. 26, two days after the 2009 waterfowl opener, Tudesko and hunting buddy Clark Love went duck hunting on private rice fields just outside of downtown Willows, which is located at the heart of some of the most productive duck-hunting land in the Pacific Flyway.

According to Tudesko, the two finished their hunt at roughly 7:50 a.m., leaving them 10 minutes before the first bell at Willows High School.

Tudekso and Love drove straight to school instead of running home to leave their duck-hunting gear, and Tudesko parked his truck on Willows Street, a paved street that runs east-west along the school tennis courts and adjacent to the school maintenance buildings, roughly 100 feet north of a breezeway that serves as the entrance to the Willows High main campus.

Willows Street is a public street, not owned by the Willows Unified School District, and Tudesko says that he parked there specifically to avoid a violation of laws forbidding the presence of guns in school.

"They say not to park with guns on campus — that's just common sense," Tudesko says. "When I parked there, I knew I was parked on a public street. I figured I was OK. Some of my friends had guns that day, too, but I guess they parked in a better spot than I did."

That morning, representatives from Interquest Detection Canines were allowed into Willows High classrooms with a trained Labrador retriever to conduct random drug searches throughout the school.

Interquest had been previously employed by Willows Unified, but as Michel and Green explain in a 65-page brief filed with the Glenn County Office of Education on Jan. 4, Interquest was "not under compensable contractual agreement" with the school to even perform searches that day.

The brief — which can be read and commented on at www.calgunlaws.com — states that Interquest was donating their services that day, and upon finishing the random classroom/locker searches, they encouraged Geivett to return to his normal routine while they continued with unsupervised searches of the school parking lot.

Testimony at the expulsion hearing indicated that interquest's agents would search "kind of the perimeter of the school." According to Michel and Green, no direct references were made to off-campus searches, and further testimony indicated that Interquest would "do parking lots" and "do perimeters" and that "they would kind of pick and choose" their search boundaries.

Shortly thereafter, Interquest's retriever, according to Interquest personnel, alerted to Tudesko's truck parked on Willows Street. Tudesko's .870 Remington and his friend's gun were both lying in plain sight on the back seat.

Interquest's two uniformed agents relayed that information to Geivett, who then requested Willows Police Department school resource officer Tricia Alves to run a search on the license plate to determine the vehicle's ownership. Tudesko was removed from class and taken to the truck by Geivett and Alves, and during the walk between his classroom and the truck, Tudesko informed Geivett and Alves that two unloaded shotguns and shells were in the truck.

"I wasn't going to lie to him," Tudesko says. "I told him 'I have (guns) in my truck, but I didn't realize it was going to be a big deal. If you want me to, I'll go run (the guns) home and won't bring them again.'

Geivett ordered Tudesko to unlock his truck — "He did not ask Gary's permission or otherwise acknowledge that Gary had a choice in the matter," Michel says — and then authorized the Interquest agents to search the vehicle and seize the guns and ammunition, as well a hunting knife stashed in the truck's center console.

"I didn't know at the time that I could say 'no'," Tudesko says of Geivett's order to search his truck, and of the student's Fourth Amendment search-and-seizure rights. "I asked him, 'I'm parked on a public street, is that your jurisdiction?', and he said 'Yeah, it is.' I figured he must've been right, or why would he tell me that?"

The Interquest agents removed the two shotguns from the back seat, several .12-gauge shot shells and a knife from the center console of the truck, and Officer Alves took the two shotguns into police possession for "safe keeping." Alves subsequently filled out a Willows Police Department "Property and Evidence Form,, in which she filed the guns under "Misc. Found Property/Non-Criminal."

Tudesko, Alves and Geivett returned to the school, and Geivett informed Tudesko that he was suspended from school for five days for violating Education Code section 48900(b), which states that a student can be suspended or recommended for expulsion if they "Possessed, sold, or otherwise furnished a firearm, knife, explosive, or other dangerous object."

The school contacted Tudesko's stepfather to inform him of the suspension, Geivett directed Tudesko to leave campus immediately, and Tudesko walked unaccompanied to his truck and drove home.

"I just thought I'd go home for a few days and then come back to school, and it'd be over," Tudesko says. "I never thought they'd expel me."

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