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Thursday, May 8, 2008 | More than half of the 76 San Diego State University students that the district attorney claimed Tuesday to have arrested as part of a special operation were actually arrested during “normal police operations,” the university’s chief spokesman said.

Campus police were working with the Drug Enforcement Administration in what was dubbed Operation Sudden Fall that led to many student arrests. However, the university’s president, Stephen Weber, claimed Wednesday that only 33 students had been arrested as a result of the sting. Campus police arrested the others during routine patrols between Jan. 1 and March 6, which did not directly result from the joint investigation, said Jack Beresford, SDSU’s chief spokesman.

“My police chief has told me no,” Beresford said. “They were part of the normal police operations that we do on our campus day-in, day-out, that these were arrests made primarily by uniformed police officers not directly attributed to the investigation.”

The sheer number of students authorities said they had arrested inspired national headlines.

On Wednesday, the District Attorney’s Office stuck by its numbers, which were included in press kits handed out to the media at a press conference on Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of the drug-related death of a female student at SDSU.

Damon Mosler, chief of the District Attorney’s Major Narcotics Unit and the lead prosecutor on the SDSU case, said the 76 figure represented all students arrested for drug charges by the DEA and SDSU Campus Police during the operation.

He said that operation lasted from the start of the spring semester, Jan 16, until May 6. Mosler didn’t dispute that some of the students arrested were picked up after routine campus police stops. But he said those arrests were part of the overall operation.

Mosler said the designation of the operation meant campus police were on notice to crack down on drug offenses at the university.

“Would some of those people have been arrested anyway? Yes, by both parties, that’s the reality,” Mosler said. “But at the beginning of the semester they said ‘OK we’re doing Sudden Fall, that means zero tolerance.’ Many of those 41 became, either wittingly or unwittingly, helpful to the police.”

Mosler said that the operation included a heightened number of patrols by campus police. Many of the 76 students arrested were charged with minor misdemeanors if they were charged at all, he said.

“Many of the 41 have long since gone, and have been adjudicated, and I never even paid attention,” Mosler said.

“The idea was to show the public and show the campus: ‘Look, here’s a snapshot of what occurred during this one term,’” he added.

On Wednesday, SDSU President Weber sent an e-mail to faculty, staff and students that pegged the total number of students arrested to date as a result of the investigation far lower:

“To date, 33 students have been arrested. Each of those students has been suspended. We believe we have arrested the majority of those involved,” Weber wrote.  

The D.A.’s inclusion of the more than 40 drug-related arrests made at SDSU so far in 2008 in Tuesday’s announcement was accurate, said Steve Walker, spokesman for the D.A.’s Office.

“We would not include those arrests in the total number if they were not connected to the operation,” Walker said.

“We’re standing by these numbers, they’re not inflated,” Walker said.

According to an SDSU Campus Police annual report, the campus police made 194 arrests for drug violations in 2006 and 212 arrests for drug violations in 2005.

Please contact Will Carless directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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