NP students sue

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 9, 2011

Lawsuit alleges strip search of NP High students

By John Howell Sr.

Seven current or former North Panola High School students have sued the school district, school administrators, the Panola County Sheriff’s Department and Board of Supervisors and the City of Batesville for an alleged strip search at the school in August, 2010.

Separate suits filed for each plaintiff in Panola County Circuit Court, First District name former North Panola High School principal Demond Radcliff, assistant principal Christopher Harlow, North Panola School District Conservators Dr. Oscar Love and Robert King, the North Panola School District Board of Trustees, the Panola County Sheriff’s Department and the Panola County Sheriff’s Department and the City of Batesville Police Department as defendants.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The language of the complaints contained in the seven suits and the notices of claim filed with each is almost identical. Each complaint demands a jury trial.

Each notice of claim states that the plaintiffs “on or about August 18, 2010…” plaintiffs were subject to “…an assault, a wrongful search …” when the principal and assistant principal made the plaintiffs individually “pass by a canine officer and then took him into the boys restroom with no parent or guardian or police officer present and forced him to removed his shoes and his pants.” The claim also alleges that the principal “touched (each plaintiff) about various parts of his body, apparently searching for something,” and “… then forced (the plaintiff) to walk by the canine unit again.”

In the lawsuits, each plaintiff claims that he was a member “of an entire classroom of minors subjected to a strip search.”

The board of supervisors is cited as “having acted through the Panola County Sheriff’s Department,” according to the complaint.

The City of Batesville is cited for having “provided a canine officer for the Panola County Sheriff’s Department to use in the subject, illegal search,” the complaint states.

The complaint and the notice in each lawsuit represent only the plaintiff’s side of the story. They cite unreasonable violations of the plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights “to bodily integrity and to be free from unreasonable invasions thereof.”

According to The Panolian account published August 24, 2010, the alleged searches were conducted during an August 18 visit to the school by sheriff’s deputies accompanied by a Batesville police officer and his dog. The searches followed the dog’s “hitting” on a backpack located near a group of students, according to the published account.

“’Searches are allowed, and we do have a policy in place,’” then-Conservator Dr. Oscar Love told The Panolian. However, citing the ongoing investigation, he refused to provide the newspaper with a copy of the policy.

The story also stated that one of the parents had initially filed a complaint with the Sardis Police Department following the incident. However, Sardis is not named in the lawsuits.

Named as plaintiffs in the seven suits are the students, who are minors, with his “mother and next friend,” including Akindre Brooks and Brenda Brooks, Untarious Simmons and Jackie Perry, Dylan Hall and Linda Hall, Gregarius Hines and Catina Hines, Gregory Coley and Joann Coley, Cordarius Milam and Kizzy Milam and Brandon Brown and Gloria Henderson. Batesville attorney Mona Pittman of the Kelly Law Firm represents the plaintiffs.

Batesville assistant City Attorney Colmon Mitchell informed his city’s elected officials about the suits during executive session at their Tuesday meeting.

“As soon as I get them I send them to Perrin Caldwell so that he can get them to our liability carriers,” Mitchell said later. Caldwell represents the city’s liability insurance carrier. The city has 30 days to respond to the complaint, he said. Jeff Allen of the Clarksdale law firm Hunt, Ross and Allen has been assigned by the insurance company to represent the city in defending the lawsuits.