‘Killian Nine’ student challenges strip search

FLORIDA ‘ In February 1998, nine Killian High School students who produced an obscene underground newsletter tested the limits of how far student-press rights advocates were willing to go to protect freedom of speech. In December 2001, one of the ‘Killian Nine’ had her day in court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit heard arguments on Dec. 7 in Liliana Cuesta’s case regarding a strip search. Cuesta, arrested for publishing threatening comments, was examined on Feb. 20, 1998, in accordance with Miami-Dade County’s ‘zero tolerance policy,’ which mandates that a person arrested for a felony be ‘completely strip searched by a correctional officer as part of the intake process.’

In October 2000, a federal district court ruled in Liliana Cuesta v. Miami-Dade County School Board and Miami-Dade County, 2000 WL 33174398 (S.D.Fla.), that police officer Michael Alexander strip searched Cuesta on his own initiative, thereby clearing the school board and county of any wrongdoing. The court also rejected Cuesta’s claim that the policy is unconstitutional.

In the brief appealing the decision, American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Steven Wisotsky reasserts that ‘the county’s policy of strip searching all felony arrestees is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.’

Cuesta and her fellow classmates originally came under fire for the First Amendment due to the disapproval of principal Timothy Dawson. Dawson objected to the publication’s crude and derogatory remarks and illustrations about the administration and school security guards. Before the 1998 trial, Dawson said he feared for his life after reading the newspaper, which includes statements such as, ‘I often have wondered what would happen if I shot Dawson in the head and other teachers who have pissed me off.’

For their part, the editors claim the paper was not to be taken literally.