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Tuesday, April 16, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Court Backs Principal in Arrest of Spatting Women

(CN) - An elementary school principal in Chicago had probable cause to have a mother and grandmother arrested for disorderly conduct after witnessing the tail end of what looked like a fight among four adult women, the 7th Circuit ruled.

Though the accounts differ, Nyokia and Carnelita Stokes, the mother and grandmother, respectively, of four students, said Nyokia was attacked by Ebony Scott and a female companion identified only as "Scott's cousin Pony."

The animosity evidently stemmed from a conflict between Scott and Nyokia's third-grade daughters. The dispute escalated to the parents, and Nyokia said Scott and a male friend showed up at her home and threatened her the night before the school altercation.

In the school office, Scott and Pony allegedly began yelling at Nyokia for telling Principal Johnny Banks about the previous night's incident. Nyokia said Scott and Pony grabbed her by the hair and ripped out eight of her artificial braids. The melee was witnessed by about 30 kindergartners, who "became extremely agitated ... and began to yell," according to the ruling.

Carnelita called 911, and Banks arrived just as the fight was breaking up. He said he entered the office to find three women entangled with arms "reaching and swinging and punching."

He had all four women arrested on disorderly conduct charges, including Carnelita, who refused to leave the office and yelled at Banks as he was trying to separate the women.

The Stokes were released from custody that night, and the criminal charges against them were dropped. All witnesses identified Scott and Pony as the aggressors.

The Stokes sued Chicago's Board of Education and Banks for allegedly violating their Fourth Amendment rights, but the district court said Banks had reason to believe the women had been "disturbing the school and upsetting 30 schoolchildren."

The Chicago-based appeals court agreed.

"With the benefit of hindsight on summary judgment, we must assume that Nyokia was an innocent victim of assault," Judge David Hamilton wrote. "Nevertheless, the undisputed facts show that a reasonable person in Principal Banks' position at the time could easily have viewed her as an equal participant in the fight."

Hamilton added that Banks' actions "did not come close to being 'truly extreme and outrageous,' even though he was mistaken about these plaintiffs' roles in the disturbance."

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