Can a female A.P. reach into the pants pockets of a boy’s skinny jeans?

D.N. initially denied that he was the one who brought the stink bomb to school. But so many kids fingered him that the administrators brought him in for questioning.  The boy finally ‘fessed up and provided a written statement.  The assistant principal then conducted a search.  Looking into the pockets of the student’s hoodie, she found what are commonly called brass knuckles.  This led to more searching, including the deep dive into the pockets, both front and back, of the skinny jeans.

The boy was expelled and assigned to the JJAEP.  He never went.  His parents provided home schooling for two years, and then sued the district claiming constitutional violations. Specifically, they alleged a violation of the 14th Amendment (Due Process) and the 4th (Illegal Search).

The court held that the boy was provided all of the due process he was entitled to.  Significantly, though, the court also held that the assignment to JJAEP was not a deprivation of “property.” Thus there could be no 14th Amendment violation:

Because D.N. was permitted to serve his punishment in an alternative education program, he was not denied access to public education and, accordingly, his 14th Amendment property interest in a free public education was not violated.

As to the 4th Amendment, the court held that the A.P. was entitled to qualified immunity.  The court noted that this search was “justified at the inception” by virtue of the boy’s admission of bringing a stink bomb to school. And the discovery of the knuckles justified a further inspection.  Was the search “excessively intrusive”?  The court was dubious:

Plaintiff points to no authority holding under circumstances such as this, that a school principal’s or assistant principal’s search of a male student’s pockets by reaching into them while the student is fully clothed is an objectively unreasonable or unconstitutional search. Although it is highly improbable that the facts as stated here by Plaintiff amount to a constitutional violation, it is clear as a matter of law that the conduct did not violate a “clearly established” right and, at the very least, the Individual Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity on Plaintiff’s 4th Amendment claim.

The case is Deyo v. Tomball ISD, decided by the Southern District of Texas on November 11, 2015.  We found it at 2015 WL 6971642.  It’s on appeal to the 5th Circuit, so stay tuned.