When makeup, jewelry, CDs and some cash turned up missing from a middle school locker room, police allegedly strip searched up to 30 girls, telling them to lift their shirts, shake their bras and drop their panties.
Thursday’s search turned up nothing, and police in McMinnville, a city of 20,000 about 35 miles southwest of Portland, later hand-delivered apologies to the parents of the 12-to 14-year-old girls.
Police Chief Rod Brown wrote that the conduct of the two female officers “exceeded the scope of what was necessary.”
“We believe the manner in which the search was conducted may have been inappropriate,” Brown wrote. “Their judgment may have been rash.”
Despite the apology, Brown maintained the Duniway Middle School students were asked only to loosen their clothing and lower their pants to their hips. But several of the girls who gathered outside the school Friday said there is no mistaking what happened.
“It was a strip search,” said Sarah Gadberry, 14. “I had to take off my pants and shirt.”
Added 13-year-old Kayla Plumeau: “I was told if I didn’t take them off, they would do a full body search. If I didn’t pull them off, they said they’d do it for me.”
Kayla said she wanted to call her mother but was told she couldn’t. Now, her mother and other parents are planning legal action.
“This is not going to stop here,” said Barbara Paulson, who kept her 12-year-old daughter Amanda home from school Friday and plans to file complaints against police, the school, the gym teacher and the principal.
“My daughter was asked to lower her pants to below her knees and she was asked to lower her panties to her knees,” she said. “She is embarrassed and hurt. Her rights were completely violated.”
Some of the girls who were searched gave this account:
It took place during gym class after several students in the locker room complained that jewelry, makeup, CDs and about $30 had been stolen. The gym teacher asked the guilty party to come forward. No one spoke up, and the school called in two police officers.
The girls were called into the locker room two by two for the search. Some girls were asked to lift their shirts. Some had to shake their bras, and some were asked to lower their pants and panties to their ankles.
Several girls who were menstruating refused to drop their panties and were told if they didn’t they would be subject to a full cavity search.
Officers found nothing and the search was called off by school officials when all but seven in the class had been searched.
Elaine Taylor, superintendent of the McMinnville School District, said the district was conducting its own investigation and sent a separate letter of apology home with students Friday.
“The well-being of your children entrusted in our care is our first priority,” the letter said. “We deeply regret the actions that took place at school yesterday.”
Police Chief Brown disputed some of the girls’ allegations, saying they were asked only to loosen their clothing, not remove it entirely.
But police spokesman Sgt. Dan Brown acknowledged that one of the places they were checked was “the waistband of their panties.”
Nobody on the police force has been suspended, the spokesman said, but school resource officers won’t go to any of schools until the investigation is complete.
Part of that investigation was put to rest Friday afternoon when officers finally found some of the stolen items on the floor of a girls’ bathroom.