A lawsuit against Columbia Public Schools and members of the Columbia Police Department claim they were negligent in how they questioned a student.
The lawsuit said police officers violated the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution when they spoke to a 16-year-old Rock Bridge High School student about an alleged sexual assault. It also claims an assistant principal and the school resource officer violated school policy when the principal failed to sit in during the questioning.
Officers went to RBHS on May 22 to investigate a reported sexual assault while the student was taking her geometry final. The lawsuit claims the two unnamed officers questioned the female student because she shared a first name of the CPS student whose house the assault allegedly took place in the prior weekend.
Officer Keisha Edwards, the school resource officer for RBHS, brought the student back for questioning. While that took place, assistant principal Tim Baker asked if he needed to be included, but Edwards allegedly said no.
CPS policy calls for “the school principal or designee” to be present when police question a student during school hours or extracurricular activity.
This ten to twenty minute questioning, attorney Andrew Hirth wrote, caused the student to miss her next two finals. She performed poorly on the makeup exams, the lawsuit said, due to “the extreme anxiety” of the interrogation. The mental health of the student, who the lawsuit claims has general anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and clinical depression, has continued to get worse since then.
“The Columbia Police Department…has a custom or practice of seizing minors without a warrant, probable cause, or exigent circumstances and interrogating them without the presence of a parent or adult guardian in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments,” Hirth wrote.
Both sides of the case agreed to remove the lawsuit from Boone County court to federal court on Thursday. Both CPS and the city of Columbia declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Hirth told ABC 17 News that he hoped the lawsuit would make CPS more cognizant of their policy requiring school staff to be present during police questioning.
“The police should not be interviewing 15, 16 year olds at school without a lawyer or parent or an adult of some sort in the room,” Hirth said.
The lawsuit comes as city and school board leaders consider a new SRO agreement. The proposed agreement for the 2019-2020 school year calls for CPS to pay more of the officers’ salaries than before. The school board would pay 55 percent of the salaries, up from the 50-50 split the two government agencies had before. For this school year, that would amount to $206,837 from CPS.
The agreement also would require SROs to be more involved with students following incidents that may require their attention. Officers would participate in the re-entry program, known at CPS as “restorative practice,” with students that “had a formal interaction with the SRO (they are returning after being detained by the SRO) or in cases where the presence of the SRO would benefit the student.”