The Fayette Observer reports that Clarinda and Lionel Shawn Cox, the parents of Justin Cox, have filed suit in federal court against the Sampson County Board of Education, alleging their then-fifth grade son was strip-searched in June 2012 by now-former Union Elementary School Assistant Principal Teresa Holmes for $20 reported missing in the school’s cafeteria. The complaint raises four claims, including violation of federal and state rights protecting people from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” battery, and invasion of privacy.
According to the complaint, Justin was pulled aside by Holmes after a female student dropped money on the floor of the cafeteria. Although Clarinda Cox had previously said her son went under the table, picked up the coins, and returned them to the rightful owner, it was alleged that Justin kept some of the money that fell. The suit also states Holmes took Justin into her office and called for a male school custodian to meet them there. Holmes told Justin she had the authority to search him, according to court documents.
Justin then removed his shoes, socks, pants and shirt, according to the complaint, and Holmes “put her fingers inside the waistband of (Justin’s) undershorts and ran her fingers around the waistband.” After the search, and no money was found on Justin, another teacher went to Holmes’ office and said the money was found on the floor of the cafeteria.
According to the Rutherford Institute, an attorney associated with the organization filed the suit on behalf of the Cox family. “Such outrageous conduct by school officials not only dehumanizes students, but it also deprives them of the fundamental right of privacy under our Constitution,” said John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute. “These types of searches clearly illustrate the danger inherent in giving school administrators carte blanche authority to violate the civil liberties and privacy rights of students.”
Initially, after the incident, Susan Warren, a spokeswoman for the Sampson County Schools, said Holmes was within her legal rights to search the youngster, but she did describe the search as “a little overzealous.” However, about a week later, Warren said a policy regarding searches within the school district was not followed by Holmes. She declined to explain the policy at that time. Holmes no longer works at Union Elementary School, and Warren said Holmes had filed retirement documents before the incident.
Source: The Fayette Observer, 12/12/12, By Caitlin Dineen
[Editor's Note: The Rutherford Institute describes itself as "one of the nation's leading advocates of civil liberties and human rights, litigating in the courts and educating the public on a wide spectrum of issues affecting individual freedom in the United States and around the world." The Rutherford Institute's press release announcing the lawsuit stated: "Holmes violated [Justin's] Fourth Amendment rights when she allegedly ordered the fifth grader to disrobe down to his underwear and subjected him to an aggressive strip-search that included rimming the edge of his underwear. The lawsuit also calls for the Sampson County Board of Education to be held accountable for failing to adequately train employees on the legal restrictions on strip-searches of public school students.”
The four count legal complaint charges that the school district and Holmes violated Justin’s Fourth Amendment right under the U.S. Constitution to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, the analogous right under North Carolina’s constitution, battery, and invasion of privacy.
In October 2012, Legal Clips summarized an Associated Press article in the Citizen-Times, which reported that the North Carolina Supreme Court had vacated the North Carolina Court of Appeals’ decision holding that a bra-lift search at Brunswick County Academy was “degrading, demeaning and highly intrusive.” The state Supreme Court sent the case back to the trial court with instructions that the court determine who witnessed a contested drug search involving a 15-year-old girl at an alternative school who had to untuck her shirt and pull out her bra with her thumb. It wants the lower court to find out more facts about what happened, including who was present when the unnamed girl was searched.]