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Appeals court says Whitmore Lake students strip search illegal

Associated Press | April 5, 2005

WHITMORE LAKE, Mich. (AP) -- Teachers and a police officer acted illegally when they strip-searched 25 students after a theft at Whitmore Lake High School in 2000, a federal appeals court has ruled.

"The searches performed on the students in this case were unconstitutional," the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati said in a decision Monday.

But the court said the teachers and officer need not pay damages to the students.

"At the time the searches were performed, the law did not clearly establish that the searches were unconstitutional under these circumstances," it wrote.

The decision by Judges Ralph Guy Jr., John Rogers and U.S. District Judge David Dowd said the search was unreasonable because it was done without consent or reason to suspect that a particular student was at fault.

Both sides said they were generally satisfied with the decision.

"The primary goal of the students and the ACLU was to make sure these kinds of outrageous strip searches in public schools don't ever happen again," American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Matthew Krichbaum told the Detroit Free Press. His group represented the students.

"The whole situation was unfortunate," said schools Superintendent Scott Menzel. "I think the decision means that the teachers were acting in good faith and were therefore protected under the qualified immunity laws."

He added, "This won't happen again in Whitmore Lake."

The search happened on May 24, 2000, after a student told her gym teacher that $354 in prom money had been stolen during class. The money was not found.

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