Clayton County pupil sues over strip search



ATLANTA — A middle school pupil claimed in a lawsuit Wednesday he was humiliated and traumatized when he was taken to a vice principal’s office and forced to strip in front of classmates who said he had marijuana.

The pupil, then in the seventh-grade, said he still suffers from emotional distress because his classmates taunted him because of his Superman underwear. He is suing the Clayton County school district for unspecified punitive and compensatory damages.

School officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment about the suit, filed in federal court.

The pupil, identified in court documents as D.H., said officials at Eddie White Academy initially strip-searched three other pupils on Feb. 8, 2011, after suspecting they had marijuana. One of them accused D.H. of having drugs, and he was taken to Vice Principal Tyrus McDowell’s office.

While the three classmates watched, D.H.’s pockets and book bag were searched but nothing was found. One of the pupils told school officials he had lied about D.H. having drugs, but administrators continued the search as D.H. begged to be taken to the bathroom for more privacy, according to the lawsuit. D.H. was ordered to strip and again, no drugs were found.

“The strip searches were done intentionally, willfully, wantonly, maliciously, recklessly, sadistically, deliberately, with callous indifference to their consequences,” according to the lawsuit, which also names as defendants the sheriff’s department and Ricky Redding, the school’s resource officer.

The pupil’s attorney, Gerry Weber, said a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found school officials can’t perform even a partial strip search of a student, even if they have probable cause.

Weber also litigated a case nearly a decade ago in which the federal appeals court in Atlanta found that a mass strip search of Clayton County pupils was unconstitutional because it violated their Fourth Amendment rights, which protect against an unreasonable search and seizure.

Redding, who was also accused of being involved in the search, was fired about a month later, the lawsuit said. McDowell was placed on administrative leave before subsequently resigning.