Lawsuit claims teens' unlawful strip search in Alcorn facility

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

CORINTH – Three teenagers will federally sue Alcorn County Juvenile Detention Center, its administrator and others with claims their July strip searches violated their constitutional rights against unreasonable searches.

The strip searches also raise questions about that policy and actions by another county’s youth court judge.

The federal lawsuit is expected to be filed Thursday in the Northern District of Mississippi.

Jackson attorney Cliff Johnson said the legal action stems from the July 8 arrest of three 15-year-olds in Senatobia after one of their neighbors complained to the police that they walked across her yard.

The trio was taken into custody and transported to the Corinth facility, where they were stripped naked and “forced to squat and cough” while being closely observed by guards, Johnson said.

In Alcorn County, ACJDC administrator Shelly Hopkins declined comment and Sheriff Charles Rinehart did not respond to Daily Journal telephone messages about the policy.

Earlier this week, Hopkins insisted the facility “follows state policy” on strip searches of juveniles, although Johnson said she told him every juvenile who enters the center is strip searched, regardless of age or charge against them.

The lawsuit will claim violations to their Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches.

Also in Johnson’s legal crosshairs is the Tate County Youth Court system and its judge, Leigh Ann Darby, who ordered the juveniles sent to Alcorn County on a Friday, which resulted in their spending the weekend there.

Tate County Board of Supervisors recently passed a “no confidence resolution” about Darby and asked Senior Chancellor Percy L. Lynchard Jr. to remove her from her posts as youth court judge, drug court judge and family master.

In the supervisors’ resolution, it notes that Lynchard “redirected” all pending youth court and drug court cases to another judge for September and October.

Donald Beard, who monitors juvenile facilities for the state Department of Public Safety, said the state’s 22 county-operated juvenile centers should be setting their policies according to guidelines established by the American Correctional Association.

ACA’s Policy No. 9.8 states that “indiscriminate searches of juveniles shall be prohibited.”

On Oct. 20, the three teens went to trial on the trespassing charge and were found not guilty.

Johnson said Mississippians should be outraged at what happened to his clients, who will speak publicly Thursday about what happened to them.

• Read Thursday’s Daily Journal for more details.

Click video to hear audio