FLORIDA — A federal appellate court has affirmed a districtcourt’s ruling that a student at Killian High School in suburbanMiami did not have her constitutional rights violated when shewas arrested and strip-searched for helping to distribute an obscenepamphlet at the school in 1998.
Jailers who strip-searched Killian student Liliana Cuesta afterher arrest had reasonable suspicion to do so "based uponthe violent and threatening language and imagery contained inthe pamphlet," the U.S. Court of Appeals for the EleventhCircuit ruled on March 14.
"Obviously, we are quite disappointed [with the court’sdecision]," Florida American Civil Liberties Union attorneyRandall Marshall said. "It is clear that in the post-Columbine,post-Sept. 11 world, that these kinds of cases are extremely difficult."
The Miami-Dade County School District had Cuesta and eightother Killian students arrested in February 1998 for publishingthreatening comments in their underground publication titled FirstAmendment. The 20-page anonymous pamphlet included a drawingof principal Timothy Dawson with a dart through his head and acolumn that mused about the consequences of shooting him.
Following their arrest, the "Killian Nine," as thestudents came to be known, were brought to jail and juvenile detentioncenter, according to their age, but the school prosecuted noneof them. The state attorney general and courts later decided thatthe hate-crime law the students were accused of breaking was unconstitutionaland unenforceable.
Cuesta was strip-searched in accordance with a Dade County"zero-tolerance policy" that requires that all newlyarrested felons be "completely strip-searched by a correctionalofficer as part of the intake process."
Cuesta sued the school district, the county and police officerMichael Alexander for her arrest and the strip search she receivedupon her arrival at the jail.
Marshall said that neither the district court nor the appellatecourt decided properly whether the strip search applied in Cuesta’scase, since she was found guilty of distributing, but not of drafting,the pamphlet.
"We feel pretty strongly that the decision on the strip searchis not really correct, and I think we’re troubled from a FirstAmendment standpoint that the contents of the pamphlet could beused as a basis for a strip search when she was charged with distribution,"Marshall said. "The record is clear that she didn’t havea hand in the drafting of any of the language that the court seizedupon as being hate and racially charged."
Marshall said the ACLU is currently mulling over whether itwill ask for a panel review at the appellate court or take Cuesta’scase to the U.S. Supreme Court.
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