Parents sue after asst. principal strip-searched fifth-grade boy over missing $20 bill

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The parents of a 10-year-old North Carolina boy have filed a lawsuit against the local board of education and an assistant principal after their son was strip-searched over a $20 bill his school’s administrators incorrectly believed he stole.

The federal complaint, filed Dec. 6, alleges that assistant principal Teresa Holmes ordered Justin Cox, then a fifth grader, to her office. She next told him to take off his shoes, socks, pants and one of his shirts, reports CBS Charlotte. Holmes then ran her fingers around the waistband of his underwear and searched his bare torso under his shirt.

A custodian was in the office to witness the search.

The $20 bill was later recovered in the school cafeteria, where it had been lost.

When the search happened, in June 2012, Holmes defended her actions in an elaborate statement that included allegations that the boy had “told some tales … some lies” over the course of the school year.

According to court documents, Holmes told Justin that a fairly large group of witnesses that included both students and teachers had seen him duck under a cafeteria table for the money after another student dropped it.

After the boy pulled out his pockets to prove that he didn’t have the money, Holmes reportedly told him that she felt she had no choice but to search him. She also told him that she had a legal right to make the search, according to CBS Charlotte.

When Holmes failed to find the missing loot on Justin, she told him she was sorry, gave him a hug and lectured him on how important it is to maintain a good reputation, according to WRAL, the CBS affiliate in Raleigh.

“Any staff member who has ever worked with me knows that I care for my students and that even when I have to discipline them, I love them,” she said, according to WRAL.

Justin’s mother, Clarinda Cox, did not accept the apology.

“I was furious,” she told WRAL. “She came up to him and rubbed her fingers around inside of his underwear,” Cox said. “If that isn’t excessively intrusive, I don’t know what is.”

The claims in the lawsuit include illegal search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment, invasion of privacy and battery.

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