Former deputy denies strip-search allegations

Ricky Redding, a former Clayton County Sheriff's deputy, said he will still pursue his campaign to be the next sheriff of Clayton County, despite being fired earlier this year, from the sheriff's department, over allegations that he failed to stop strip searches of four middle school students at Eddie White Academy.

According to Redding's attorney, Mary Huber, not only will Redding continue to pursue his election campaign, he is also in the process of appealing his firing to the Clayton County Civil Service Board. "Mr. Redding has a right to appeal his case," Huber said.

Clayton County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Garland Watkins, said that when the sheriff's department was informed of the incident at Eddie White Academy, back in February, the office followed proper protocol, and launched an investigation through the internal affairs department.

According to a report on that investigation, the alleged incident occurred on Feb. 8, 2011. At the time, Redding was a school resource officer at Eddie White Academy. A student notified Redding and school staff members that the pupil had seen some other student's in possession of illegal substances while on school grounds. Four students were, then, taken to Redding's office where a search took place. The report said that, during the searches, all students were present in the same room and were instructed to "disrobe" and pull out their underwear, to allow a visual search for contraband, "exposing their private parts." Marijuana was found on three of the four students," according to the report.

Redding, the report said, maintained in a written statement that he was only present in the room –– working on his paperwork –– while school staff members conducted the strip search. Redding also said that he did not order, or participate in, the body searches.

According to Chief Deputy Watkins, Redding was "inconsistent" in his verbal and written statements during the investigation. "Redding did participate in a small portion of one of the students, who was searched," said Watkins. "He was not truthful in the reports, and he also refused to testify."

Huber confirmed that Redding was, in fact, present in the room when the searches were taking place, and said the reason he did not intervene was because he was not authorized to do so.

Huber said she believes that Redding's termination was not solely based on the searches of students, but rather, was due to his association with former Clayton County sheriff, Victor Hill. "As soon as Sheriff [Kem] Kimbrough took office, my client was demoted to a school resource officer," said Huber.

However, Watkins said, "Redding was not fired for his association with Victor Hill. "Redding was informed of proper procedures for searching students," he said. "The search was improper, and he knows we do not do strip searches on students."

Huber said her client was not in the wrong, however, and that there was no policy in place –– during the time of his employment –– for proper search and seizures of students. "When the sheriff took over last fall in the schools, they did not do any training on search and seizures," said Huber. "Redding was in the dark, and the policy was only put in place after he was terminated."

Although the report from the sheriff's office's internal investigation states that Redding participated in instructing the students to strip down to their underwear, exposing their "private parts," Huber said this is not true. The students were only instructed Redding to remove their socks and shoes, and school personnel were responsible for the strip down, she said.

"Law enforcement has to have probable cause to search, and they are under greater discretion," she said, "and in this case, my client had probable cause. However," Huber said, "the school does not need probable cause to do searches."

Charles White, a spokesperson for Clayton County Public Schools, said he could not provide further comment, in regards to disciplinary action that would be taken against school personnel involved in the strip search of students. "School officials and district-level officials followed standard procedure in investigating the incident at the time it took place," he said, "and took appropriate action. This is still considered a personnel action, and as such, we are unable to comment."

Huber said if the appeal to the Clayton County Civil Service Board is successful, Redding will resume his old position at the sheriff's department, plus receive back pay. "Unfortunately," she said, "the Civil Service Board has several cases on appeal, and it may not be until next year when Redding's case will be heard."

Redding said he would not comment on the allegations against him, but, as far as his campaign for the Clayton County sheriff's position is concerned, he said: "My campaign is going very well, so far, and I'm getting positive feedback from the community."

Current Sheriff Kem Kimbrough declined to comment on either, the allegations that led to Redding's termination, or Redding's campaign for sheriff.