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Suit: School Officials Illegally Strip-Searched Boy

ROUND LAKE, Ill. (STMW) -- The principal and assistant principal of a north suburban middle school subjected a 13-year-old boy to a strip search — visible to anyone outside the conference room they were in -- because they suspected he had marijuana, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the boy's mother.

The suit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Chicago, names Round Lake Area School District 116 and Round Lake Middle School principal Ryan Hawkins and assistant principal Ray Porten as defendants.

On April 20, Porten went to the boy's classroom and escorted the boy to a conference room with uncovered windows facing a hallway, and they asked if he had anything that did not belong in school, the suit claims.

When he denied having anything, Porten instructed him to remove his shoes, then lift up his shirt, displaying his bare chest and torso; then to pull down his pants and underwear, and lift his genitals to allow visual inspection, the suit claims.

When the strip search revealed no contraband, Porten and Hawkins escorted the boy to his locker, which they also searched and found nothing illegal, the suit claims.

After the searched, the boy was taken back to class. Later that day he told his mother, who claims she never received notification from any school staff or faculty member. The next day, she went to the Round Lake Police Department and tried to file a report, but police refused, the suit says.

It claims the boy felt afraid to go to school and stayed home the following Monday, returning on Tuesday, April 24, the suit claims. In the interim, the boy's mother received a call from Round Lake police and was asked to meet with officers, but was unable to due to her schedule. Two or three days after his return to school, a police officer took the boy out of class and questioned him alone, the suit claims.

Subsequently, the boy's mother received a call from the officer who, the suit says, informed her school officials should not have conducted the search without the officer present.

The suit claims the boy had a constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure of his person, and Porten and Hawkins violated it. It says the only information they had prior to the search was a statement from another student claiming he overheard that the boy and another student "had marijuana."

In addition to absence of reasonable suspicion of danger or that the boy had hidden contraband, the suit claims the strip search was excessively intrusive in light of the boy's age and the nature of the suspected infraction.

It calls Porten and Hawkins' conduct "extreme, outrageous and excessive" and claims it caused him to experience "intense shame, humiliation, fear and embarrassment."

The suit also says Porten and Hawkins acted with a conscious disregard for the consequences of their conduct, and the boy, as a result, suffered mental anguish, humiliation and emotional distress.

Ed Yohnka of the American Civil Liberties Union is outraged at the allegations.

"Parent don't give up parentage of their children when they send them off to school, and school administrators aren't there to be an adjunct of the police," Yohnka tells CBS 2's Mike Parker. "The idea of doing something this dramatic without involving a parent just seems really beyond the pale."

The boy's mother seeks compensatory damages of at least $100,000 and further punitive damages of at least $500,000, plus court costs.

A representative for the school district did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2012. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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