Phila. School District faces lawsuit over claims 13-year-old was fondled during contraband search

By Jon Campisi | Nov 8, 2011

The father of a Philadelphia middle school student has filed a federal complaint against the School District of Philadelphia, its chief inspector and a handful of individual school police officers, alleging a strip search performed on his daughter during school hours violated her civil rights.

Philadelphia attorney Michael Pileggi filed the civil action Nov. 7 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of city resident John Conover.

Conover alleges in his lawsuit that his 13-year-old daughter was essentially fondled during a search of students late last month.

According to the lawsuit, which names among the defendants the district, its acting superintendent, its chief inspector and nine school police officers, the young girl, who attends Warren G. Harding Middle School, was told to report to the school auditorium shortly after arriving for the day on Oct. 24 along with about 100 other students.

The students were told by about eight school police officers and a handful of teachers in attendance to proceed to the front of the auditorium where they would be searched for contraband by the officers, the lawsuit claims.

A male school police officer then used a handheld metal detector to wand around the girl’s body with negative results, the suit claims.

The officer then did a physical pat-down of the girl in which he allegedly “placed his hand down Plaintiff’s shirt and around her chest area,” the lawsuit states.

The complaint alleges that the same type of pat-down technique was used on other girls.

After the search, the girl was allowed to leave and proceed to class.

According to the complaint, the plaintiff’s daughter had to wait in the auditorium for two hours while the other students underwent their searches.

The parents of the girl were never contacted before, during or after the search of their daughter, the suit states.

“At no time did Plaintiff commit any offense against the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for which a strip search may be lawfully made,” the lawsuit states. “At no time did Plaintiff commit any illegal acts or engage in any conduct, which in any way justified the actions of all Defendants.”

As a result of the search, the lawsuit claims, the young girl suffered “serious mental anguish, psychological and emotional distress, and pain and suffering.”

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of violating the girl’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. It claims the girl was unlawfully detained and strip-searched without probable cause.

“The actions of Defendants were undertaken in a menacing and arbitrary manner, designed to cause Plaintiff fear, distress and embarrassment,” the lawsuit states.  “The individual Defendants conspired to inflict harm on Plaintiff and deprive her constitutional rights.”

The lawsuit accuses the defendants of federal civil rights violations.

The plaintiff seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, as well as declaratory judgment, attorney’s fees and other court relief.

Aside from the school district and the nine unnamed school police officers, the defendants named in the suit are Acting School District CEO and Superintendent Leroy D. Nunery; Warren G. Harding Middle School; the middle school’s principal, Michael J. Calderone; and School District Chief Inspector Myron J. Patterson, who oversees school police officers, who, in Philadelphia, are unarmed and not sworn law enforcement.

The plaintiff’s are demanding a jury trial.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-06946-JP.

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