ATLANTA – A Georgia middle school student claimed in a lawsuit Wednesday he was humiliated and traumatized when he was brought to a vice principal's office and forced to strip in front of classmates who said he had marijuana.
The student, then in the seventh-grade, said he still suffers from emotional distress because his classmates taunted him by calling him Superman, the underwear he was wearing when he was strip-searched. The student is suing the Clayton County school district for unspecified punitive and compensatory damages.
Clayton County school officials didn't immediately respond to requests for comment about the lawsuit, filed in federal court.
The student, identified in court documents as D.H., said officials at Eddie White Academy initially strip-searched three other students on Feb. 8, 2011, after suspecting they had marijuana. One of them accused D.H. of having drugs, and he was brought to then-vice principal Tyrus McDowell's office.
While the three classmates watched, D.H.'s pockets and book bag were searched but didn't find anything, the lawsuit said. One of the students 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 county's sheriff's department and Ricky Redding, the school's resource officer.
The student'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 students was unconstitutional because it violated their Fourth Amendment rights, which protect against an unreasonable search and seizure.
"This is like deja vu," said Weber. "It is simply beyond belief that students are still being stripped naked in the Clayton County schools."
Redding, who was also accused in the complaint of being involved in the search, was fired about a month later, the lawsuit said. McDowell was placed on administrative leave before subsequently resigning.
Redding declined to comment and McDowell could not be reached.
The student's mother, Angela Dawson, said her son still hasn't recovered.
"This situation has broken the very foundation of my child's education because in order for him to learn, he has to believe that what schools are trying to teach him is right and now he questions them after they stripped him of his clothes and dignity," she said. "His trust is broken."