(SAMPSON COUNTY, N.C.) — A North Carolina mother is furious after an assistant principal strip-searched her 10-year-old son after he was accused of stealing $20 from a classmate.
Clarinda Cox told North Carolina TV station WRAL that the assistant principal at Union Elementary school, Teresa Holmes, ordered her son, Justin, to remove his shoes, jeans and shirt, leaving him in his boxers and a T-shirt.
No one from the school contacted her about the accusations or the search. She said she found out about the incident when her son came home and appeared upset, Cox said.
Holmes acknowledged searching the boy on June 1, but in a statement she said that when $20 fell from a female classmate’s pocket in the cafeteria, “seven or eight” students saw Justin dive to pick it up.
“I walked up to Justin and told him that if he had the money it would be better to just give it to me because if not I would have to search him. Justin said that he did not have the money and to ‘search me,’” Holmes also said in the statement.
Holmes said she called a male janitor to witness the search in her office. Justin was made to remove his shoes, socks, jeans and shirt. The items were checked thoroughly before they were returned to him. She also acknowledged running her hands “outside of the waistband of his boxers.”
“At this point, I knew that Justin did not have the money. I sat in front of him telling him that I was sorry that I had to search him. I again explained that as a school administrator, I had the authority to search him because two teachers thought he had the money as well as seven or eight students,” she wrote.
In the statement she also accused Justin of having told “some lies” in the past. The $20 bill was later found on the floor of the cafeteria, although Holmes wrote that it hadn’t been there when she and Justin left to go to her office.
In the statement, Holmes said she encouraged Justin to “build a good name” for himself, and that the witness also “added some words of wisdom” for the boy. Holmes also wrote that she hugged Justin.
ABC News could not reach school officials or Clarinda Cox for comment on Tuesday evening.
In an interview with the Fayetteville Observer newspaper, Cox said Justin had helped the girl pick up the $20 that she had dropped. The girl later said the money was missing, Cox told the newspaper.
A Sampson County school district spokeswoman told WRAL that Cox should have been notified of the search, but maintained that Holmes was within her rights to search Justin, even though she “may have been overzealous in her actions.”
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Brian Stelter, CNN
Emanuella Grinberg, Thom Patterson, Kevin Conlon and Boris Sanchez, CNN
Wayne Covil, WTVR
Lindsay Isaac, CNN