Virginia Corrections Department Apologizes After 8-Year-Old Strip-Searched, Made to Believe It Was the Only Way She Could See Her Dad

The Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) has apologized and vowed to take immediate disciplinary action after an 8-year-old girl was strip-searched at a facility in Dillwyn after being made to believe it was the only way she would be able to visit her father.

The incident, which was initially reported on by The Virginian-Pilot, unfolded on November 24 during what should have been a routine visit, Diamond Peerman, who had taken the child to visit her dad, told Newsweek.

The 8-year-old, whose identity has not been revealed due to her age and the nature of the incident, had been regularly visiting the Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn with Peerman, her father's girlfriend, since March.

As usual, they were asked to stand in a line outside the facility to be searched by a DOC dog before entering. This time the dog appeared to hone in on Peerman, leading staff to demand that she be strip-searched.

Peerman said she asked if that meant the 8-year-old needed to be searched too, to which staff initially responded "no," before reversing their decision and asking her to sign a consent form for the child to be searched.

She pointed out that she was neither the child's parent nor legal guardian, but said she was told that if she did not sign a consent form, they would not be able to go through with the visit.

Believing that it was the only way for the child to be able to see her father, Peerman said she reluctantly signed a consent form allowing the child to be searched.

The child, Peerman said, was visibly distressed by the incident. "You could tell that she was hurt and it bothered her a lot. It still bothers her," she said.

Already, she said, the girl had been diagnosed with ADHD, bipolar disorder and depression and November's incident appeared to have exacerbated her mental health issues.

"She's miserable. It just bothered her so much," Peerman said.

Peerman said she was also disturbed by the fact that her partner's daughter was asked what her age was during the strip-search instead of before.

"They asked her old she was and I felt that was very inappropriate to be asking the child that at that point in time," she said. "They should have asked her beforehand if they were going to ask her at all."

In a statement sent to Newsweek, DOC Director of Communications Lisa Kinney acknowledged that the department's "search policy was violated" in the November 24 incident, which she called "deeply troubling."

"Department leadership was just made aware of the incident. It is deeply troubling and represents a breach in our protocol," she said.

"Strip search of a minor is extremely rare, and in this case Department procedures weren't followed. Our procedure states that only a parent or legal guardian can approve the strip search of a minor; in this case the adult visitor who signed the consent for the minor to be strip searched wasn't the minor's parent or legal guardian," Kinney said.

"The staff member who authorized the search of the minor following a K-9 alert didn't have the authority to do so. We take this matter very seriously and as mentioned above will be taking immediate disciplinary action against the person responsible."

Kinney said her department wanted to "sincerely apologize" to the child and her family and would "be taking immediate disciplinary action against the person responsible."

Peerman said that she had also received an apology from the warden of the prison earlier this week.

"He said he's sorry for what happened and said they would investigate it," she said.

However, Peerman said she was never informed that any disciplinary action was being taken. "That was never said to me at all," she said.

The girl's father, she added, was still "very upset" over the incident, with the family still searching for answers on how staff could have allowed it to happen, despite the policies that are currently in place.

Bowling Green
A room for interviews is seen inside the Caroline Detention Facility in Bowling Green, Virginia, on August 13, 2018. An 8-year-old girl was reportedly strip-searched at a facility in Virginia, after being led to believe it was the only way she would be able to see her father. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

This article has been updated with statements from Diamond Peerman and Virginia DOC Director of Communications Lisa Kinney.

Virginia Corrections Department Apologizes After 8-Year-Old Strip-Searched, Made to Believe It Was the Only Way She Could See Her Dad | U.S.