In 2014, an alarming case came under the spotlight: Jesse Snodgrass, 17, and an Asperger’s patient was arrested by the local police for selling weed. He was accused of being caught red-handed during an undercover drug sting. But Snodgrass had only one friend in his entire life. He had difficulty even navigating his way to his Art classroom. Moreover, he had only recently come to Chaparral High School in California’s Temecula. There was much more to the story than a young adolescent assumed to have gone rogue.
Undercover High School Drug Stings Are Merciless
Undercover drug stings in high schools have a long history in the US. The Los Angeles Police Department had been the first to conduct it way back in 1974. However, recently many police departments have stopped the practice after several dubious cases. Of them, the case of Jesse Snodgrass stands out the most.
Such operations involve a mid-20s police officers pretending to be a student and trying to buy drugs from the students. In Chaparral High School, Deputy Daniel Zipperstein was installed as the undercover officer for this case in 2012. He was a new transfer just like Snodgrass. On the first day they met, he approached Snodgrass and asked if he could get him $20 worth of weed. Jesse, excited at the prospect of being able to make a friend, agreed without even having the faintest clue of where to get it.
Jesse’s parents, in an interview with VICE, talked about how Jesse would come home and excitedly talk about his new friend. It was one of the happiest moments in Jesse’s life. His mother Catherine described Jesse as having an 11-year-old’s cognitive skills, so this was all the more important. Jesse could hardly recognize any vocal cues that help us make basic conversation. Take a look at the VICE video here:
To deal with it, Jesse took on a more metal appearance. So, Deputy Dan assumed he was an obvious suspect. However, any kind of lengthy conversations would make it obvious that Snodgrass was mentally impaired.
Jesse, on an outing with his family downtown, gathered enough courage to explore a bit on his own. He found someone that appeared like a junkie and silently got weed in return for the $20. The next day, he would deliver it to Dan at a deserted strip mall on Dan’s insistence.
2 weeks later, Dan had asked him for more but had gotten even less in return. Then he had asked Jesse for Clonazepam – one of Jesse’s medications. This he refused to part with because it was an essential prescribed drug for him. After that denial, the connection between them had died off.
A Life-Long Trauma For Jesse Snodgrass
However, in December 2012, 5 officers armed to the teeth with vests and guns, burst in and arrested Jesse inside of his classroom. He could not even believe he was awake. 21 others were also arrested. Later, while being questioned, he was informed of Deputy Dan’s real identity. It would shock him so much that he would think about it for the next several years.
Jesse’s parents only got to know of the arrest after they contacted the school because Jesse was taking too long to come home. Horrifyingly, no one believed them and the police had no intention of rectifying the mistake. It would take a month till the court judge ordered an immediate release for Jesse. By then, he had regressed into a childhood state where he could not even recognize his parents.
It would take 6 weeks for him to say anything coherent. Even then the first thing he uttered was that he wanted to die. His parents fought and watched over like never before to get Jesse back. Even after he recovered, he still had PTSD and panic attacks over interacting with people. Today, Jesse is a successful high school graduate, the pride of his parents who continue fighting the school districts so that Jesse’s fate does not befall other students.
Feature Image Credit: Free Thought Project