When the mother looked at her 16-year-old son's day planner, she could barely make out what was left of the sketch.
But school officials at Pentucket Regional High School thought it was a swastika.
So, they searched Bobby DeLotto's bag, looking for more swastikas. Instead, in a small zippered pocket, they found what police thought were methamphetamines. Officers then marched DeLotto past his classmates in handcuffs and later arrested him.
It turns out, the capsules were nothing illegal, just over-the-counter diet pills. And no one can say where the swastika image came from.
Now, Bobby and his mother, Christina DeLotto, are suing the town of West Newbury, its Police Department, and the high school's principal, assistant principal, and School Committee. Documents filed Wednesday in US District Court in Boston allege Bobby's civil rights were violated in the arrest October 2006 during which the teen was shackled to a Police Department bench for hours, interrogated about whether he was into drugs and drug dealing without being able to speak to his parents, and sent to a Lawrence jail.
Town Selectman John McGrath said Thursday afternoon that he had just learned of the DeLottos' case and that it probably had been turned over to the town's insurance division. No other town official returned calls seeking comment.
"I only became aware of that two hours ago, so I really know nothing," McGrath said when reached by phone. "It wasn't anything that the Selectmen would have known about at the time - unless it was in the newspaper, really - but I don't recall the event at all."
Christina DeLotto said the details of Oct. 19, 2006, are difficult to forget: That is the day her son was humiliated, and all because of a swastika he said he never drew.
The mother of three was at home preparing for a class at the graduate school where she is studying to be a social worker when the phone rang around 9 a.m. The assistant principal, Jonathan P. Seymour, was on the line about the notebook her son had lost the month before.
"He told me about the swastika, and I said, 'Well, that's not Bobby, that's just not him,' " DeLotto recalled Thursday, describing Bobby as student who gets As and Bs, who spends his free time hanging out at home with friends or at the gym, and who is interested in a career in criminal justice. Christina DeLotto said Seymour told her "we did find he had some pills . . . [and] the police are coming down to test this."
She then called her husband at work, and they raced to the school, where court records say police were using a field kit to test and identify the pills found in a bottle labeled "Ripped Fuel."
"It was something that I had bought a long time ago; tried them," said Christina DeLotto, who said she purchased the diet supplement. "They didn't work. I bought them at
A police report of the incident states that Officer James F. Riley went to Pentucket Regional High School at about 9:20 a.m., where he tested some of the 11 green and gray capsules given to him by Seymour. The test came back positive for amphetamines, according to the police report. Police Chief Jonathon L. Dennis, who has taken a job in New Hampshire, was then called to the school, where he also tested the pills and came up with the same results. Nowhere in the report is the swastika mentioned.
Bobby was suspended from school, arrested, and jailed, his mother said. Months later, court records show, the Essex County District Attorney's office would drop its case against the teen, after the Massachusetts Department of Public Health tested the pills in January and determined that no narcotic or illegal drugs were found.
The DeLottos' lawyer, Peter T. Marano, blames inadequately trained officers and a poor drug testing kit.
"The officer who conducted the field testing of the drug, he hadn't had any training since 1984," Marano said. "Basically, what the police did was they ordered this police drug testing kit online or something . . . and said go use them."
Marano is seeking a jury trial and $5 million in damages on the DeLottos' behalf, saying Bobby will forever have a "black mark" against his name because of this arrest, which he must now divulge when he applies to college or a military academy, or for a job.
Christina DeLotto also would like the town, the school, and police to apologize to her son, who is now 17. She said she hopes he has not soured on his dream of working in criminal justice. Both the school principal, Renzo Binaghi, and the Pentucket Regional School District's superintendent, Paul A. Livingston, said they had no comment on the suit when contacted Friday.
"The day of the arrest the halls were just lined with students and they sent over police cruisers, so it was just humiliating for all of us," Christina DeLotto said. "I don't know how he went to school the week after it happened . . . I asked Bobby if he wanted to leave the school, and I guess, you know, because he feels that he didn't do anything wrong that gave him the courage to stay. . . . I think he didn't want to run from it."
Erin Ailworth can be reached at email@example.com