The mother of a boarding school student claims in a civil filing that the
child was subjected to a strip search without her consent, what the plaintiff maintains amounted to a violation of her daughter’s civil rights.
Lancaster, Pa. resident Trina Howze filed suit in the Middle District of Pennsylvania last week against the Milton Hershey School and others over claims that her daughter, identified only as “C.W.,” was forced to undergo a strip search to look for a cell phone believed to have been in her possession.
The girl, who started attending the private school in the fall of 2009, had been participating in a boarding component at the time during which students live in homes operated by married adults and supervised by a student home affiliate.
This past June, Michael Randolph, the student home affiliate assigned to C.W., and Kenneth and Tysha Wilson, the couple whose home in which the girl lived, suspected C.W. of having a smartphone, which was prohibited by house rules, according to the complaint.
When confronted about the accusation, C.W. denied that she had a smartphone in her possession, but the three adults nevertheless ordered the girl to the school’s health center where a nurse made the child remove her shirt in order to search for the phone.
The nurse “touched C.W. all over her body – including her chest – feeling for the smartphone,” the lawsuit states.
No phone, however, was ever found.
Trina Howze takes issue with the fact that the strip search on her daughter was conducted without her presence.
After the search, the girl felt violated, was visibly upset, and was crying and shaking, the complaint alleges.
Howze called Tysha Wilson, the house parent, about what happened, at which time the woman – both she and her husband, along with Randolph, the student home affiliate, are defendants in the suit – informed the plaintiff that C.W. does not have any constitutional rights because the girl is in a private school and the school is “backed up by the Derry County Police Department,” according to the complaint.
Howze, however, says that her daughter had Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from governmental intrusion into her “bodily integrity.”
“C.W. had the right to be free from the intrusive physical examination,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff, Howze had a right to attend the strip search. The School Defendants violated those rights by ordering the strip search of Plaintiff C.W. without the consent of the Plaintiff, Howze.”
The complaint says that the defendants’ conduct was “malicious, intentional, and displayed with a reckless indifference to the rights, safety and well being of the Plaintiffs.”
The suit also contains state law claims of negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, and assault and battery.
The plaintiff seeks compensatory, statutory and nominal damages in excess of $75,000, plus punitive damages, attorney’s fees, costs and injunctive relief.
She is being represented by attorney Matthew B. Weisberg.
The federal case number is 1:14-cv-00455-CCC.