By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Multiple sources involved in cases in Philadelphia Family Court say sheriff’s deputies improperly strip-searched juveniles in both criminal and DHS custody cases who were appearing at the court for hearings earlier this week.
And once court administrators discovered what was going on, they put a stop to it.
According to multiple sources, juveniles in county custody for both criminal and non-criminal matters who were making courtroom appearances at the new Family Courthouse, at 15th and Arch Streets, were first strip-searched by sheriff’s deputies as a security measure all day Monday of this week and possible part of Tuesday.
These sources say the searches occurred individually and in small groups, and that the juveniles were asked to remove all their clothes, to squat, and to cough.
Multiple sources tell KYW Newsradio that the juveniles complained about the practice and, when court administration learned what was going on, administrative judge Kevin Dougherty put a stop to it.
The new courthouse officially opened on Monday.
A spokesman for Philadelphia Family Court issued a statement today that said, “On Tuesday morning of this week, in response to concerns raised by child advocates over allegations of strip searches of juveniles, the leadership of Philadelphia Family Court directed the Sheriff’s Office to cease and desist all strip searches pending further notice. Today, Family Court issued new rules governing the screening and detention of juveniles that the Court developed in collaboration with the Sheriff’s Office.”
Our sources were unable to say how many juveniles were searched and/or whether any practice of this sort was in place at the old courthouse.
But they did tell us that not all of the young people searched were in custody on a criminal matter — some were in group homes and others in dependency care because their parents were in custody.
The sources said the main concern of adults who complained about the procedures was ongoing traumatization of the children, since some of these juveniles may have already been victims of physical, sexual, or other abuse.