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Thursday, November 16, 2000

ACLU suit alleges
false arrest, strip-search
of 12-year-old girl

By Debra Barayuga

The parents of a 12-year-old Niu Valley Intermediate School girl have sued the principal and police, alleging their daughter was strip-searched and falsely arrested after she was accused of stealing $20.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii filed suit in U.S. District Court yesterday on behalf of the unnamed minor against Niu Valley Principal Eric Heu and at least six police officers.

ACLU Legal Director Brent White called the case a "shocking example of government abuse of power by a school principal, the police and prosecutor's office."

School officials violated the department's administrative rules by failing to notify or make a reasonable effort to inform her parents of her arrest, said civil rights attorney and ACLU co-counsel Eric Seitz.

The suit said the girl was summoned from her class in front of her classmates by a security guard on May 4, 1999, and taken to the principal's office, where Heu told her she was going to be arrested.

The girl was searched, or patted down, by police officers and taken to the police station to be booked. At no time was she read her rights, nor told why she was being arrested, the suit said. Police allegedly laughed and taunted her as she cried during her arrest.

The girl was strip-searched at the police station in front of other officers and prisoners and her bag searched without her consent, the suit said.

The arrest apparently stemmed from an incident a few weeks earlier on April 23, 1999, when two classmates accused her of stealing money from their locker.

Heu summoned the girl to his office on five occasions between April 23 and May 4 to ask her about the alleged thefts. Each time, the girl denied taking the money but Heu persisted in his questioning and accusations, the suit said.

Heu could not be reached for comment.

No criminal charges were filed against the girl after her arrest. But nearly two weeks after the girl's father called Principal Heu indicating he was thinking of suing, Heu revived the charges and the girl's case was sent to city prosecutors, the suit said.

A month after the statute of limitations expired April 16, the prosecutor's office charged the girl with fourth-degree theft. Family Court however, dismissed the charge June 21.

The girl, who is now 13, withdrew from Niu Valley Intermediate on March 13.

Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu is out of town and was unavailable for comment. Other school officials were not available for immediate comment.

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