Former students settle strip-search case

The Baltimore Sun

Three years after they were strip-searched during a drug sweep at Kent County High School, two former students have been awarded $285,000 in damages, plus apologies from school and Sheriff's Officials.

The American Civil Liberties Union announced yesterday the terms of the agreement to settle a lawsuit filed by the students, Heather Gore and Jessica Bedell. They were 15-year-old sophomores when they were searched by a female sheriff's deputy April 16, 2004.

Drug-sniffing dogs scanned 250 student backpacks in a dozen classrooms at the high school in Worton, about 10 miles from Chestertown, and 16 other students were "patted down" by deputies. No drugs were found that day, and no similar raids have been staged at the school.

"I'm very excited it's finally all over," Gore, 18, said yesterday. "It took a large emotional toll."

State ACLU officials say the settlement is the largest monetary award in Maryland in a police misconduct case.

"I told our clients that the apology might actually be the most rewarding aspect because it's the hardest to get," said Deborah A. Jeon, the state ACLU's legal director. "We think this is very significant. "

The insurance carrier for the school system has agreed to pay $67,500 to Gore and $57,500 to Bedell. The insurer will pay an additional $160,000 to the two on behalf of the Sheriff's Office.

Gore, who said she plans to use her share for college, said her embarrassment was compounded by living in a small town.

"I think if you live in a small community, everybody knows everything, and that just makes something like this harder to deal with," said Gore. "In a small place, the police seem to think they know everything. Now, hopefully, they'll realize they don't."

She said that as part of the search, a female deputy ordered her to remove her skirt and lifted her tank top, exposing her breasts. The deputy then checked Gore's underwear. Bedell, also 18, said a deputy lifted her skirt.

Bedell said the experience has reinforced her ambition to attend law school. She took her final high school classes at nearby Chesapeake College, then enrolled in an accelerated program at Salisbury University. She is set to graduate in December.

"After what had happened, I had no desire to be on that high school campus," Bedell said. "We've seen the legal system work the way it's supposed to."

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