Court: strip search violated teenage girl's rights

TUCSON, Ariz. &

A federal appeals court ruled Friday that officials at an Arizona school violated a 13-year-old student's constitutional rights by subjecting her to a strip search for drugs based on a classmate's uncorroborated accusation.

In the latest ruling, judges said officials violated Savana Redding's Fourth Amendment right "to be free from unreasonable search and seizure" and called the search in 2003 "grossly intrusive." The girl was an eighth-grade honor student at Safford Middle School when she was pulled from class by a vice principal who was investigating accusations that the girl was giving prescription-strength Ibuprofen pills to classmates.

The school has a zero-tolerance policy toward prescription drugs on campus.

Redding denied providing the pills to a classmate and was escorted by a female administrative assistant to the nurse's office. She and the nurse, also female, ordered her to strip to her underwear, move her bra to the side and pull her underwear out, exposing her breasts and pelvic area.

No pills were found.

The school argued that the search was reasonable and justified because pills had been found on campus and another student had linked them to Redding.

Last September, a three-judge appellate panel ruled 2-1 that the search was constitutional.

The full appellate court said the vice principal, Kerry Wilson, is financially liable for damages and ordered the case back to U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Nancy Fiora to determine damages against Wilson.

Fiora ruled in the lawsuit that Savana and her mother first brought that the search did not violate the girl's rights.

The majority in Friday's ruling said the two women who were carrying out Wilson's order would not face any financial penalty.

A phone call to Wilson's home in Thatcher, Ariz., was not returned immediately Friday.

In an affidavit after the incident occurred, Redding said the strip search was "the most humiliating experience I have ever had."

After Friday's ruling, Redding said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented her, that she sued because she wanted to ensure that school officials would not be able to violate anyone else's rights in a similar manner.

She said she was relieved that a court finally recognized "that the Constitution protects students from being strip searched in schools on the basis of unreliable rumors."

ACLU attorney Adam Wolf called the ruling "a victory for our fundamental right to privacy, sending a clear signal that such traumatizing searches have no place in America's schools."

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