SCRANTON, Pa. (CN) – A high school violated a girl’s privacy – and the Constitution – by seizing her cell phone and turning it over to the district attorney because it contained “explicit” photos – of herself, the girl claims in Federal Court. The district attorney then “threatened to bring felony child pornography charges” against the girl unless she attended “a re-education course on sexual violence and victimization,” the student says.
The student, N.N., sued Tunkhannock Area High School principal Gregory Ellsworth, the school district, Wyoming County and its District Attorney George Skumanick Jr.
N.N. claims the search and seizure violated the state and federal constitutions, and her privacy, and led to her illegal suspension from school, for “storing nude and semi-nude photos on her cellular phone.” N.N. says the photos were never uploaded to the Internet and never sent via email.
N.N. says the officials “seized and searched the contents of her cell phone without reasonable suspicion or probable cause,” then punished her for storing the “explicit” photos.
N.N. says the principal searched her cell phone and turned it over to prosecutors after a teacher confiscated it from her. N.N. says she shot nearly all of the “explicit” pictures herself, and “that the photographs be seen only by herself and, perhaps, her long-time boyfriend.”
She claims that school and county officials, and other parents to whom prosecutors showed her photos, had no right to see the “very private and intimate photographs,” which are still in government records.
When N.N.’s mother tried to retrieve the cell phone from prosecutors, she was told by Wyoming County District Attorney Chief Det. David Ide that it had been sent to a crime lab in Delaware, according to the complaint.
Ide, a defendant, “told N.N. that it was a shame that she had not waited until after her 18th birthday … because, instead of getting into trouble, she could have submitted the photographs directly to Playboy magazine,” according to the complaint.
“Ide concluded the conversation by suggesting that N.N. contact him, stating “I’ll get you your phone back, [N.N.]” while winking at N.N.,” according to the complaint. (Bracketed words as in complaint.)
N.N. claims that District Attorney Skumanick sent her a letter threatening to bring a child pornography case against her if she “failed to complete a re-education course on sexual violence and victimization offered by the Wyoming County District Attorney and the Victim’s Resource Center.”
According to the 21-page complaint, the District Attorney’s Office called an “informational” meeting for parents of children whose phones had been seized by the school.
“At this meeting, Defendant Skumanick advised the parents that their children had engaged in criminal conduct and offered them the ‘evidence’ to prove it – a stack of printed photographs from the students’ confiscated cellular phones which he drew from his coat pocket,” according to the complaint.
“Defendant Skumanick allowed the parents at the meeting to view the pictures that prompted the threat of criminal charges and that he deemed to be child pornography. …
“Defendant Skumanick printed at least 15 photographs of N.N. that were found on her cell phone, and which he claimed served as a basis to prosecute N.N. for child pornography.
“At the meeting, Defendant Skumanick explained that he intended to charge all students who had taken ‘explicit’ photographs of themselves or possessed photographs of others with child pornography unless the offending students agreed to complete the aforementioned reeducation course on sexual violence and, ironically, victimization.
“Faced with the daunting prospect of having to defend herself in court, N.N. reluctantly agreed to complete the re-education course described above.
“N.N.’s cell phone was returned to her a few days before she attended the re-education course, at which point she discovered that all images on the cell phone, including family photos and the photographs, had been deleted.”
N.N. claims that the re-education class cost her $100, plus lost wages of $71.50 from missing work, and took time away from her schoolwork.
And she claims that the class itself “victimized and distressed” her, for its privacy invasion and harassment, the “philosophy … espoused” by the instructors, and because “she did not feel that she belonged in a class for victims of sexual violence and abuse.”
She seeks declaratory judgment of constitutional and privacy violations, wants all the photos and records seized from her phone destroyed, plus costs and damages.
Her lead counsel is Jacob Cohn with Cozen O’Connor.