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Former Naperville student accused, then exonerated of stealing AirPods sues city

Former Naperville student accused, then exonerated of stealing AirPods sues city, officers
Former Naperville student accused, then exonerated of stealing AirPods sues city, officers 02:54

NAPERVILLE, Ill. (CBS) – A former Naperville North High School student filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday against the City of Naperville and two police officers, alleging she was wrongfully accused of stealing AirPods from a fellow student in 2019.

Amara Harris was found not guilty of stealing and hopes to change the way police discipline students in schools.

Harris was surrounded by family and her attorneys on Wednesday outside of Naperville City Hall, just days after graduating from Spellman College in Atlanta, to announce the lawsuit.

Rev. S. Todd Yeary said the lawsuit alleges "that the City of Naperville abused process willfully, maliciously prosecuted Amara Harris, violated her civil rights, and inflicted intentionally emotional stress because they did not want to admit they were wrong."

Harris was ticketed in November of 2019 by a school resource officer at Naperville North High School. She was charged with theft and given a fine of $100, which she refused to pay because she said it was a mistake.

That led to a trial.

"After trial, two days of trial and a jury coming back to say that Amara Harris was not liable for the commission of theft in violation of the ordinance," Yeary said.

The lawsuit names the city, the school resource officer, and a Naperville police sergeant. Attorneys representing Harris said they've tried to speak with the city in hopes of receiving an apology after she was exonerated.

"Not only do we want to make sure we find justice for Ms. Harris, we want to change public policy," said Juan Thomas, a civil rights attorney. "We're asking the Illinois state legislature to prohibit this type of ticketing of students that puts them in the criminal justice system at an age way too young for minor petty offenses."

Harris did not speak during Wednesday's announcement, but her mother did speak and said she was proud of her daughter.

"I'm very proud of her tenacity, her strength, her courage," said Marla Baker. "I'm very proud of her for seeing the bright side and the silver lining, despite being lied on, despite being targeted, despite being bullied."

The City of Naperville released a statement in response to the lawsuit:

"The City of Naperville is aware of the lawsuit filed against the City and two employees of the Naperville Police Department, and we believe the allegations are without merit. The police officers involved in this matter relied upon independent eyewitness statements from school officials and students in issuing the theft citation to Ms. Harris. 

Further, prior to trial, the court denied Ms. Harris' motion to suppress evidence, motion to dismiss, and motion for a directed verdict which further supports the evidentiary basis for issuing the citation. The fact that the jury acquitted Ms. Harris does not negate the factual basis for the actions of the City and its officers. The Naperville Police Department is an accredited law enforcement agency that provides significant training to its staff and maintains the highest standards of integrity which the City maintains were met in this matter. The City and its officers therefore are prepared to vigorously defend this lawsuit."

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