DA not issuing charges in Suring student search investigation

A Madison-based civil rights lawyer says the fourth amendment rights of students were violated
WATCH: What's next regarding alleged Suring strip searches
Published: Feb. 14, 2022 at 9:55 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 16, 2022 at 6:45 AM CST
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SURING, Wis. (WBAY) - UPDATE 2/15

The Oconto County District Attorney’s Office will not be issuing charges regarding alleged strip searches in the Suring School District.

Oconto County DA Edward Burke sent a letter saying that the searches did not fall under the legal definition of “strip searches” under Section 948.50 Wisconsin Statutes. School officials asked the students to strip down to their underwear so they could be searched for vape cartridges.

Madison-based civil rights lawyer Jeff Scott Olson says the district attorney has a narrow view of the law.

“I am confident that we will be able to show that these searches violated the fourth amendment. And I think we have an excellent damages case here,” Olson said.

One parent of a Suring student gave us OIson’s contact information, but Olson wouldn’t say how many of the students he’s representing.

“We have sent the school district a notice of circumstances of claim today,” Olson said.

FULL STATEMENT FROM DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE:

The Oconto County District Attorney, Edward D. Burke, Jr., has reviewed the statements and reports provided by the Oconto County Sheriff’s Department regarding incidents that occurred on January 17-18 at the Suring Schools alleging that students were stripped searched in violation of Section 948.50 of the Wisconsin Statutes.

The incidents involve the Superintendent of Schools, Kelly Casper, aided by the school nurse conducting searches of six female students who were attending Suring Schools to determine whether the females were in possession of “vape cartridges.”

The students were asked to disrobe down to their undergarments and were visually searched by Ms. Casper. One of the students was asked to pull her bra band away from her body, but her breasts were not exposed to Ms. Casper or the nurse.

One of the students indicated that she was asked to pull up her bra and that her breasts were exposed. That statement is inconsistent with the statements given by the five other students who were searched, all of whom indicated that their breasts were not exposed. The statement is also inconsistent with the statements provided by Ms. Casper and the school nurse.

Two students that were searched indicated they were not wearing underwear and were allowed to leave the leggings they were wearing on. Ms. Casper then conducted a hands on search of the outside portion of the students’ legs.

The applicable law in the case is Section 948.50 Wisconsin Statues:

948.50  Strip search by school employee.

(1)  The legislature intends, by enacting this section, to protect pupils from being strip searched. By limiting the coverage of this section, the legislature is not condoning the use of strip searches under other circumstances.

(2) In this section:

(a) “School” means a public school, parochial or private school, or tribal school, as defined in s. 115.001 (15m), which provides an educational program for one or more grades between kindergarten and grade 12 and which is commonly known as a kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, junior high school, senior high school, or high school.

(b) “Strip search” means a search in which a person’s genitals, pubic area, buttock or anus, or a female person’s breast, is uncovered and either is exposed to view or is touched by a person conducting the search.

(3) Any official, employee or agent of any school or school district who conducts a strip search of any pupil is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor.

A class B misdemeanor carries a maximum potential penalty of 90 days jail and a $1,000.00 fine, or both.

The searches conducted on January 17-18 at the Suring School are not “strip searches” under (2)(b).

The Oconto County District Attorney’s Office will not be issuing charges at this time.

“I mean what they did was stupid, but to take it to this level of disgrace is just disgusting. The kids don’t know they can say no,” said Raelene Helminger, a parent.

Olson says all the students involved are in high school.

According to the DA, six girls were searched for vape cartridges and four undressed to their undergarments while the superintendent “visually searched” them.

Two students who said they weren’t wearing underwear were patted down by the superintendent with their leggings on.

Parents say boys and girls were searched and divided up, placed in different rooms, and searched by same-sex administrators, removing everything except their underwear.

Many parents went before the school board last week to voice their concerns.

In response, board president Wayne Sleeter issued a statement saying, “The Suring School Board understands the seriousness of this situation. The school board is monitoring the situation closely and we will have a statement once the investigation is complete.”

Parent Rachel Sexton said, “We need action. We need to make sure our kids are safe. We need to make sure our kids trust the school, they trust the staff, they trust the adults that are suppose to be guiding them.”

INITIAL REPORT

Parents met Monday night in Suring, upset over allegations that a group of kids were strip searched in school.

The searches were conducted to find vaping devices.

The incident involving both male and female students is being investigated by the Oconto County Sheriff’s Department.

“I mean what they did was stupid, but to take it to this level of disgrace is just disgusting. The kids don’t know they can say no,” said Raelene Helminger, a parent.

Investigators haven’t said how many students were strip searched.

Parents say the boys and girls were divided up, placed in different rooms, and searched by same sex administrators, removing everything except their underwear.

It happened on January 18th.

Helminger added, “When I first learned about it I didn’t know the severity of it. I didn’t know they had to remove clothing, I just thought they got their pockets padded down and whatnot. When I found out how bad it happened I just cried.”

Many parents went before the school board last week to voice their concerns.

In response, board president Wayne Sleeter issued a statement saying, “The Suring School Board understands the seriousness of this situation. The school board is monitoring the situation closely and we will have a statement once the investigation is complete.”

Parent Rachel Sexton said, “We need action. We need to make sure our kids are safe. We need to make sure our kids trust the school, they trust the staff, they trust the adults that are suppose to be guiding them.”

Sexton also told us many of the kids involved did receive in school suspensions, and restricted bathroom use, but the search went too far.

Other parents say they weren’t notified prior to the search being conducted.

Action 2 News did reach out to the Oconto County district attorney who had no comment since the investigation has not been referred yet to their office for specific charges.

Parents say the boys and girls were divided up, placed in different rooms, and searched by same sex administrators, removing everything except their underwear.

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