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Suit: 13-year-old boy strip-searched at school

Updated: October 4, 2012 6:47PM

The principal and assistant principal of a north suburban middle school subjected a 13-year-old boy to a strip search — visible to anyone outside a conference room — because they suspected he had marijuana, a federal lawsuit claims.

The suit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Chicago, names Round Lake Area School District 116, Round Lake Middle School principal Ryan Hawkins and assistant principal Ray Porten as defendants.

But Round Lake Area School District 116 Supt. Constance Collins said the school district and police investigated the claims and both determined nothing resembling a strip search happened.

“The school district absolutely denies this claim,” said Collins.

On April 20, Porten went to the boy’s classroom and escorted the boy to a conference room with uncovered windows facing a hallway, where they asked if he had anything that did not belong in school, the suit claims.

When he denied having anything, Porten instructed him to remove his shoes, then lift up his shirt, displaying his bare chest and torso; then to pull down his pants and underwear, and lift his genitals to allow visual inspection, the suit claims.

When the strip search revealed no contraband, Porten and Hawkins escorted the boy to his locker, which they also searched and found nothing illegal, the suit claims.

After the search, the boy was taken back to class, the suit says. Later that day he told his mother, who claims she never received notification from any school staff or faculty member. The next day, she went to the Round Lake Police Department and tried to file a report, but police refused.

The suit claims the boy felt afraid to go to school and stayed home the following Monday, returning on Tuesday, April 24. In the interim, the boy’s mother received a call from Round Lake police and was asked to meet with officers, but was unable to because of her schedule. Two or three days after his return to school, a police officer took the boy out of class and questioned him alone, the suit claims.

Subsequently, the boy’s mother received a call from the officer who, the suit says, informed her school officials should not have conducted the search without the officer present.

The suit claims the boy had a constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure of his person, and Porten and Hawkins violated it. It says the only information they had prior to the search was a statement from another student claiming he overheard that the boy and another student “had marijuana.”

In addition to absence of reasonable suspicion of danger or that the boy had hidden contraband, the suit claims the strip search was excessively intrusive in light of the boy’s age and the nature of the suspected infraction.

The suit calls Porten and Hawkins’ conduct “extreme, outrageous and excessive” and claims it caused him to experience “intense shame, humiliation, fear and embarrassment.”

The suit also says Porten and Hawkins acted with a conscious disregard for the consequences of their conduct, and the boy, as a result, suffered mental anguish, humiliation and emotional distress.

The boy’s mother seeks compensatory damages of at least $100,000 and further punitive damages of at least $500,000, plus court costs.

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