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False Report of Marijuana Possession Leads to Firing of Penn State Fencing Coach

What is a successful coach? How about 12 team national championships, 28 individual NCAA titles, 10 Olympians, and 188 All-Americans over a span of 31 years! That is winning a national title almost every other year. Who was this coach? The former leader of the men's fencing team at Penn State. That is a record that any coach would be proud of. So what caused Penn State to fire this gem of a  coach?

False Report of Marijuana Possession

This all started when the coach's administrative assistant thought that she saw a female fencer with a marijuana cigarette, which most people just call a joint. Instead of going to the her boss and coach of squad to report the alleged marijuana possession, the secretary reported it through an anonymous Penn State University hotline. Upon being informed of the allegation, the accused fencer declared her innocence and argued that the assistant probably mistook some rolled up athletic tape for a marijuana cigarette. The fencer took the extra step to prove her innocence by voluntarily submitting to a drug test, and that test confirmed that the fencer had not been enjoying some herb for medicinal purposes.

After the dust settled and the fencer proved that she had not been using marijuana, the coach discovered that the report had been made by his secretary. I suspect that he was not happy that his own staff had accused a team member of criminal activity, an apparently baseless accusation, without first talking to him. I also wonder if he asked his assistant how she knew what a joint looked like. Did the assistant smell the odor of unburnt or fresh marijuana, and if so, how does she know what marijuana smells like? Because the coach questioned his secretary about why she went to the Penn State administration instead of him, he was terminated. Penn State claims that he violated a whistleblower policy. It does not appear that any threats or intimidating language were used by the coach. The fencing team came out in defense of their beloved coach, but to no avail.

Police Reliance on Credible Tips

The police routinely rely on tips to provide them with information about ongoing criminal activity. What the officers are able to do with those tips depends upon various factors. A primary factor is whether or not the tipster was anonymous or provided his or her name and contact information. Tips from known sources are given great credibility because if the source lied about the tip, the source could be charged with false reports to law enforcement. In this type of situation in which a person is reporting suspected marijuana possession, the police would want to know if the tipster smelled marijuana, observed a leafy, green substance that appeared to be marijuana, and how the tipster could identify marijuana by sight and smell. Here, if the tipster just saw something that was white and rolled, the quality of the tip is minimal, and the police probably would not even have reasonable suspicion to detain a person. If the police detain someone without reasonable suspicion, the detention violates the person's constitutional rights, and all evidence found must be suppressed.

What Is the Fallout from an Unfounded Report of Marijuana Possession? Civil Lawsuit

The coach has now hired prominent Philadelphia civil attorney Alvin F. de Levie, and a Federal lawsuit has been filed against Penn State and numerous Penn State administrators. The Federal court will now determine whether or not Penn State and its administrators violated the rights of the coach and whether or not the coach should be returned to his former position along with back pay.

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