An Open Letter to Ofc. Graham Buck

(A paper copy of this letter was sent on May 20, 2006. Any response will be published below when received. You may also wish to read a related opinion piece.)

Ofc. Graham Buck
Fairfax County Police Department
4100 Chain Bridge Rd.
Fairfax, VA 22030

Dear Ofc. Buck:

In the fall of 1997, I started a new school year at Liberty High School in Bedford, Virginia. My family had moved from Fairfax County to Bedford following my father’s retirement from the United States Coast Guard, and I was trying to adjust to my new school and my new town. I was a good kid, overall. I had always obeyed the law, played by the rules, and was usually well-liked by my teachers.

But within a week of starting school, I was sitting in the principal’s office with my father defending myself against your baseless charge that I was a potentially-dangerous ‘anarchist.’

During the preceding school year (1996/97), I was a freshman at Chantilly High School. Being very opinionated and politically-inclined, I took it upon myself to criticize certain policies of Chantilly High and Fairfax County Public Schools on my web site. Later in the school year, a friend and I launched the “Chantilly Students’ Union” complete with its own site. CSU was a student action organization with the goal of improving those school and system policies which we felt were unfair, ineffective, or—in a few cases—illegal. We had a teacher sponsor, but our application to become an official school club was rejected by the administration.

At one point in spring 1997, then-subschool principal Mel Riddile—under threat of suspension—ordered that I take down the CSU web site. While he backed down after my parents got involved and threatened a First Amendment suit, the incident only increased my anger and frustration with my public school experience. As we neared the end of the school year, we had two meetings to discuss our concerns with CHS principal Dale Rumberger. No action was taken.

When I left the FCPS system, I sent an e-mail to the Fairfax County School Board expressing my personal disgust with some of the events that had occurred—particularly Mr. Riddile’s efforts to have our web site removed. Around the same time, I began preparing a web site for a new “Liberty Students’ Union” which I had intended to start at my new school.

In August or September 1997, Dr. Brenda Cowlbeck—then-principal of Liberty High School—received a call from you to warn her about me and my web sites. According to Dr. Cowlbeck, you identified yourself as Ofc. Graham Buck of the Fairfax County Police Department, told her that I was a potentially-dangerous ‘anarchist’ that she should keep an eye on, and referenced one or more of my web sites. Thankfully, after meeting with my father and me, she discounted your ludicrous assertions. I learned from a friend still in the FCPS system that you were a school resource officer at (I believe) Robinson Secondary, but none of us were able to determine what prompted your intrusion into my life.

I was extraordinarily angry with you, and in many ways I still am. I did not like school, and I was critical of school policies that I didn’t (and generally still don’t) agree with, but I never committed a crime. I have never been a threat. I have never been an ‘anarchist.’ I never did anything that would justify a police officer warning my principal about me.

My parents instructed me not to file a formal complaint or charges against you at the time, and that is the only reason I didn’t.

I’m writing this because I want you to know a few things. First, I consider it downright insulting that you chose to make an ominous warning call to my principal without having ever talked to me or my parents. If you had taken the time to call, e-mail, or meet with me, you would have discovered that I was opinionated and outspoken, but not malicious or threatening. Instead, you went behind my back and risked ruining my experience at my new school before it began.

Second, in my opinion, your actions were an abuse of power. Nothing on my web sites or in my e-mail to the school board constituted threats, and everything I did fell under my First Amendment rights to free speech and free press. As a minor, and in the absence of any criminal activity, I do not believe the Fairfax County Police Department had any legal authority to communicate with Liberty High School about me without my parents’ consent. Even if you did have the legal authority, you most certainly did not have the moral authority.

Third, I want you to know a little bit about me. I graduated from George Mason University in 2004 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Administration. Today, I am a Web Content Manager for three Department of Defense and Army web sites. This month, my wife and I will be celebrating our first wedding anniversary. We attend church every Sunday. I vote in every election. These are not the hallmarks of a criminal or a dangerous anarchist; these are the hallmarks of an intelligent, free-thinking individual who would not allow himself to be silenced or dispirited by overreaching school administrators and police officers. You misread me in 1997, Ofc. Buck . . . badly.

But most importantly, I am writing this letter because for nine years you have owed me an explanation and an apology. I want to know, in your own words, why you did what you did. You’ve heard my side, and now I want to hear yours.

Thank you for your time.

Scott Bradford

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.