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This Week's Top Snitch Scandal: Strip-Searched for Advil

Anjuli Verma,
Drug Law Reform Project
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March 3, 2008

We have a new twist on informant-related scandals to report today that involves using students as snitches and the bad things that happen to good people as a result.

Today the ACLU filed as co-counsel in representing a 13-year-old girl who was strip-searched by school officials who suspected her of possessing ibuprofen, a.k.a Advil. And what do you think their “evidence” was for conducting this heinous search? You guessed it. The uncorroborated word of a fellow student who herself was in trouble for bringing prescription-strength ibuprofen to school. There was zero additional evidence that the honor-roll student, Savana Redding , who had no disciplinary record whatsoever, might be in possession of the pills.

Nevertheless, school officials conducted a strip search of Ms. Redding where she was ordered to strip to her underwear and expose her breasts and crotch to the school nurse and an administrative assistant. They found no pills. But for good reason, they now find themselves the target of a lawsuit by the Redding family. If you want to get a sense of the wealth of scientific literature that explains the serious psychological implications of being strip-searched at age 13, you should check out the briefs of support that have also been filed by the National Association of Social Workers and the Rutherford Institute.

The ACLU is co-representing Ms. Redding before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which decided to reconsider the case after a three-judge panel curiously ruled that the strip-search was legal. Thankfully, it looks like the full court is asking the same question you’re probably asking yourself at this point: If the Constitution doesn’t protect teenaged girls from being strip-searched at school for possession of Advil, then what does it protect us from?

The same safeguards and regulations on informant use that we have been advocating in the context of criminal drug proceedings apply equally, if not more, to the school context, where young people like Savana Redding are even more vulnerable to finger-pointing by vindictive peers looking to save their own skin.

We look forward to representing Ms. Redding in this next phase of her lawsuit, and we certainly hope that she is the last student to suffer from officials’ blind trust in an informant.