CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Dozens of federal, state and local law officers swept down onto the University of Virginia's fraternity row late Thursday and early yesterday, seizing bags of marijuana, hallucinogenic mushrooms and LSD and arresting eight students on charges of selling drugs.
The raid, in which three fraternity houses and their contents were also seized, shocked and embarrassed the university, which since its founding by Thomas Jefferson has taken great pride in its national reputation as a place of scholarly excellence and campus civility.
[Eight students were arrested on charges of drug distribution, and three others indicted on the same charges were being sought, authorities said, according to the Associated Press.]
Law-enforcement officials said the raid at Delta Upsilon, Tau Kappa Epsilon and Phi Epsilon Pi fraternities was the first case in which fraternity houses were taken under federal control.They also expressed hope that it would send a message, not just in Charlottesville but elsewhere in Virginia and the nation, that campus drug activity would not be permitted anywhere and that major drug seizures and arrests would not be limited mainly to poor neighborhoods.
Some civil libertarians have recently complained that enforcement of drug laws is too often aimed at minority and poor people.
"There are no safe havens, no safe places to conduct illegal drug trafficking," E. Montgomery Tucker, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, said yesterday at a news conference in which details of the raid were released.
The police chief in Charlottesville, John deK. Bowen, said the raid provided proof that his force was not singling out minority residents and people in low-income areas for enforcement of anti-drug laws.
Nor did the raid indicate that drug activity on the campus of the 18,000-student university had suddenly increased, he added.
"There was ongoing activity, nothing particularly outstanding, and we finally got some good evidence and decided to act on it," he said. "We called in federal authorities to help because federal laws make it possible to seize property where there is drug activity, and then sell it.
"We thought that would send a special message. The federal people told us they were happy to come in, that it wouldn't hurt a bit if the whole country heard the message."
[Federal prosecutors said the 11 students, ages 19 to 23, were involved in multiple sales of small amounts of illegal drugs to undercover officers, the Associated Press reported.]
Officials at the Justice Department in Washington said the case was the first in memory in which prosecutors were seeking to take over fraternity houses at a college under federal drug laws that allow the seizure of assets involved in drug trafficking. The U.S. attorney has filed a forfeiture action in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville.
The case also involves the use of a federal drug statute enacted in 1984 that allows for the doubling of penalties for selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a school.
Last August, Chief Bowen sent a letter to officers of the university's 60 fraternities and sororities, warning that drug activity would not be permitted. He said there were indications that it was mainly prevalent in fraternities.
Student and university officials held meetings to discuss the problem. But Chief Bowen said the warning and discussions failed to halt the activity.
Each of the three fraternities affected by the raid has about 50 members, some of whom live in the fraternity houses. The houses are owned by the fraternities and are not on university property.
Shortly before 9 p.m. Thursday, the raiding party moved in, blocking off streets around the houses, some only a block from the home of the university president. Then officers, several with drug-sniffing dogs, entered the houses and began searching rooms and their occupants for drugs.
Clusters of students gathered near the blockades to watch the raid, many expressing amazement and concern. The university's fraternities have a reputation for lively parties, but it is a reputation built mainly on kegs of beer and thumping Southern rock.
Through open windows, officers could be seen poking through closets and patting down occupants.
"I think anyone who lives in a university environment lives a bit of a sheltered life, so this is a shock," said Philip Korologos, a law student.
Chief Bowen said indictments were handed up by grand juries before the raid began.