Star-Telegram, December 15, 2000

Stephenville parents file suit after officials strip-search son, 10
By Jane Pratt

STEPHENVILLE -- The parents of a 10-year-old boy have sued the Stephenville school district and three of its employees who strip-searched their son because they suspected that he had cigarettes.

Roger and Theresa Salter sued Monday in U.S. District Court in Fort Worth, seeking compensatory and punitive damagaes on allegations that their son's constitutional rights were violated.

According to the complaint, the boy was strip-searched Sept. 29 by teacher Kevin Ferguson at the direction of resource officer Sgt. Ann Shell while teacher Nick Heupel watched at the Gilbert Intermediate School. The suit claims that the boy had already been questioned about and searched for possession of cigarettes before the strip search. Nothing was found in either of the searches, the complaint says.

Stephenville Superintendent Darrell Floyd said he had not seen a copy of the suit and could not comment on it.

The Salters say that Shell orchestrated the search and that individual apologies after the incident were half-hearted and insufficient to "undo the damage that was already done."

The suit says the searches were in compliance with the school district's policies, which "tolerate and encourage the warrantless strip search of young children for no good reason." It also claims that the school district did not provide the three employees with adequate supervision and training, which in turn resulted in the strip search.

The couple say the school district refused to discipline the three employees after it learned of the incident.

According to the suit, the parents removed their son from the school "for his own protection" and school officials had been told that the Salters did not want their children searched without their consent.

The lawsuit says the damage to the boy include loss of privacy, mental anguish, emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment and psychological trauma.

The suit seeks damages for Robert and Theresa Salter for the loss of their parental rights, the cost of providing their son with an alternative education, mental anguish, emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment and medical bills.

In a Nov. 15 letter to Floyd, the Salters' attorney, Curtis B. Stuckey of Nacogdoches, offered to settle the claim for $140,000. Stuckey said the offer remained open until Nov. 27; he said he sued after receiving no response from the school district.

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