A Woman Sues for Civil Rights After Being Accused of Stealing Airpods in High School

A Woman Sues for Civil Rights After Being Accused of Stealing Airpods in High School

NAPERVILLE, Ill. — The city of Naperville and two police officers are being sued for $20 million for civil rights discrimination by a 21-year-old woman who was accused and found not guilty of stealing AirPods from a friend when she was in high school.

On May 21, Amara Harris filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. The claim asks for damages for the pain and suffering she went through while she worked to clear her name over three years.

It also says Harris, who is black, was taken advantage of by a system that tickets black students more often for small offenses.

In 2019, she was a Naperville North High School student in the Chicago suburbs when she realized her AirPods were gone. She went back to the table in the Learning Commons where she had been sitting. This is where students meet before class.

She said she saw a pair of AirPods and took them because she thought they were hers.

Harris turned them into the school dean after being told that the serial number on the AirPods she took matched the number on another student’s AirPods.

After about two weeks, she was given a ticket by a Naperville Police Department officer who works as a school security officer for allegedly stealing the AirPods. Harris rejected the charge and wouldn’t pay the $100 fine.

The choice started a legal fight that lasted almost four years. It ended last year when a jury found her not guilty of breaking the local law against theft.

He said, “It was just very hard because I was at school at the time of the accusation.” It came as a big shock to me and messed up my mental health.

“I was mad.” I felt sad. I thought someone was after me.

Baker, Harris’s mother, said that her daughter, who used to be a friendly cheerleader, now barely talks above a whisper and stays to herself.

“I try not to cry because I know she’s going through anxiety and depression.” Baker said, “She is trusting people again.” “She’s being strong through all of that right now, and she’s getting back to that big personality and smile.”

Todd Yeary, Harris’s lawyer, said that Harris had to go to almost 50 meetings before the case went to trial. Some of them were held through videoconferencing, but she had to travel to and from Naperville while she was at Spelman College in Atlanta for others.

“As she said, I think we must make sure that we fix it for other students who may have to go through the same thing,” Yeary advised.

The case also names Juan Leon, the officer who gave her a ticket, and his boss, Sgt. Jonathan W. Pope. It says that Pope allowed a system of “improperly ticketing students for minor infractions and disproportionately targeting students of color.”

During the hearing, Leon said there was no direct proof that Harris had taken the AirPods.

Leon and Pope did not answer when asked for comments.

In a statement released after the lawsuit was filed, Naperville City Attorney Mike DiSanto said that the police and school officials did the right thing and that the city and its officers “are prepared to vigorously defend this lawsuit.”

“We don’t believe the accusations are true,” DiSanto said. “When they gave Ms. Harris the theft ticket, the police relied on statements from school officials and students who were there and saw what happened.”

“The fact that Ms. Harris was found not guilty by the jury does not change the facts that the City and its officers used to make their decisions.”

A 2022 report from ProPublica found that in Illinois, black students got tickets more often than their white peers. Later, ProPublica wrote a story about Harris that showed what they meant.

According to Yeary, the charge against Harris, who is black, shows how racial bias in the police can cause possible civil rights crimes.

“There’s a civil rights aspect to it because tickets are given out differently based on race,” he explained.

Harris said she wants to work with local leaders and state lawmakers to change the rules about how resource officers work in Illinois schools. She graduated from Spelman last month with a degree in international studies.

She said, “I’m looking at the bright side and how I can help other kids and schools.”

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