Police investigate tainted popcorn

By Darrell Todd Maurina

Clovis police are investigating allegations that a Marshall Junior High student gave drug-laced popcorn to unwitting classmates.
Police on Thursday had not determined if the incident was a prank. Two students complained of headaches and upset stomachs after eating the popcorn on Monday, officials said. No serious illnesses were reported.
Officer Chrissy Jacklin of the Clovis Police Department said two students told her another student gave them popcorn and — after they had eaten the popcorn — told them she had crushed up various types of pills in the popcorn.
In her report on the incident, Jacklin said she called in an agent from the regional drug task force who administered field testing to the popcorn that showed a slight positive for methamphetamine. The agent advised he could not be certain what was in the popcorn until receiving laboratory test results.
Subsequent investigation by Jacklin revealed that five students, all 12- or 13-year-old girls at Marshall, ate the suspect popcorn.
“I immediately went and retrieved a half-full sandwich bag of popcorn out of a trash can,” Jacklin wrote in her report. “(The student) stated that she threw it away because it tasted funny and she didn’t want it (any) more.
“The popcorn appeared to have some kind of sugary substance inside along with some almonds in it. (The student) denied having put any kind of medications in the popcorn. Later on, the girls also said that they were told that the popcorn contained marijuana as well.”
Police Capt. Dan Blair said the incident is being treated as distribution of an imitation controlled substance until lab results are back. Sgt. Jay Longley of the Region 5 Drug Task Force said that crime is a felony carrying a maximum penalty of 18 months in state prison.
“It would be like me walking up to you and me saying this is marijuana and me selling marijuana or giving you marijuana but it was Bermuda grass from your front yard,” Blair said. “Most of the time that’s how that charge comes about: Somebody said it was drugs but it was not.”
Blair said the student probably won’t be formally charged until lab tests are completed, which could take several months. If the substance does turn out to be methamphetamine or another illegal drug, much stiffer charges could include distribution of a controlled substance to minors and doing so within a school zone.
Distributing drugs at school isn’t common, Blair said.
“I’m not going to say it never happens, but we don’t get much information that it goes on and we don’t see that much,” Blair said. “We don’t get all that much information that drugs are distributed in the school, other than the occasional bag of marijuana.”
Superintendent Neil Nuttall said the student suspected of distributing the popcorn is on in-school suspension, during which time she cannot interact with other students and has her work brought to her in an isolated room.
“(The drug agent) said to the principal that we shouldn’t take any action until we get some results back from the labs,” Nuttall said. “I’m hoping and praying it was something she wanted to do for attention and it wasn’t more than that. It just sends shivers up your spine to think someone would bring something to this school and distribute it.”
Nuttall said the student faces at least a five-day suspension even if the popcorn wasn’t laced with drugs, and may face additional penalties for lying to school officials and endangering students.