DILLWYN, Va. -- Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Friday that he's suspended a policy that allowed prison officials to strip search an 8-year-old girl who was visiting her father.
“I am deeply disturbed by these reports — not just as governor but as a pediatrician and a dad,” Northam told The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in a statement.
“I’ve directed the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security to suspend this policy while the department conducts an immediate investigation and review of their procedures,” Northam said.
The Virginian-Pilot previously reported that prison officials had breached protocol when they strip-searched the girl before allowing her to visit her father. The father's girlfriend accompanied the child to Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn just before Thanksgiving,
Diamond Peerman says she and the girl were circled by a Virginia Department of Corrections dog trained to sniff out contraband. Peerman was singled out by the dog and told by prison officials that both she and the girl had to be searched. Peerman says both she and the girl removed all their clothes and were searched, and that they were then allowed a visit, but only through glass.
DOC policy states that a legal parent or guardian must consent to a minor being searched. Peerman, the father's girlfriend, says she told guards that she wasn't the 8-year-old's legal guardian and that they told her she had to sign the consent form anyway.
The staff member who approved the search didn't have that authority, according to DOC Director of Communications Lisa Kinney. She said immediate disciplinary action against the person responsible will be taken.
The girl's mother told the newspaper that her daughter already suffered from bipolar disorder, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“She's a minor, she's a girl. She was traumatized,” the girl's mother said. “She gets emotional, she will break down.”
The girl's mother says the 8-year-old misses her dad but won't be visiting him anymore because of the incident.