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Strip Searched for Suspicion of Ibuprofen

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) - A middle school principal strip-searched a 7th grade girl on suspicion of possession of ibuprofen, then suspended her for three days to make an "example" of her - even though the girl never had any ibuprofen, her mother says.

The girl and her mom sued the Columbus City School District and Ridgeview Middle School Principal Sharee Wells in Franklin County Court.

The mother, Kellie Hammac, says that a classmate tried to give her daughter, "C," an ibuprofen tablet on Feb. 24, 2010 - but her daughter refused to take it.

"Afterward, [C] went to her 5th period gym class," the mother says.

"Upon arriving at the gym for class, [C's] gym teacher instructed [her] to go to the gym locker room. Upon arriving at the locker room, [C] was confronted by Principal Sharee Wells. Wells informed [C] that she had been told [that C] had possession of unauthorized medication.

"The medication [C] was suspected of having was over-the-counter ibuprofen. [C] emphatically denied the accusation.

"Wells then forced [C] to undergo a physical pat down, which revealed absolutely no unauthorized medication or any medication whatsoever.

"The pat down consisted of Wells physically touching [C's] legs and shorts.

"Wells then ordered [C] to strip out of her gym clothes and provide Wells with both her gym clothes and school clothes.

"[C] complied, and in complying was required to strip down to only her bra, underwear and socks."

C was forced to stand undressed for more than 8 minutes. She "was not permitted to seek assistance or guidance from any other adult who could advocate for [her]. At no time did Wells or anyone from Ridgeview ensure the gym locker room was secured to prevent others from coming into the locker room and observing [her] while in a state of undress.

"In fact, a fellow student by the name of Hailey walked into the gym locker room and observed [C] while she was in a state of undress."

Despite clear evidence that C did not possess ibuprofen, she was suspended for three days.

"Wells stated they wanted to use [C] as an 'example,'" the complaint states.

The mother says that when she met with the principal on the second day of C's suspension, Wells "refused to discuss what information she had which prompted her to perform the search of [C] or from whom she obtained the information.

"Wells also admitted taking [C] into the gym by herself and that she patted Chloe down (but found no drugs) prior to conducting the strip search." (Parentheses in complaint.)

"Wells admitted she forced [C] to take off her clothes in front of Wells, and she admitted that she never found any drugs on [C]," the complaint adds.

Due to the humiliation, the mother says, her daughter "was required to leave Ridgeview and enroll in a different middle school ... [and] has and will continue to require psychological counseling."

The girl and her mom seek punitive damages for emotional distress, illegal search and seizure and negligence. They are represented by Braden Blumenstiel with Blumenstiel, Evans and Falvo.

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