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The eight-year-old girl was visiting her father last month at the Buckingham Correctional Center when she was allegedly searched

By Christine Pelisek
December 06, 2019 03:17 PM
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Buckingham Correctional Center
Credit: Steve Helber/AP/Shutterstock

An eight-year-old girl was allegedly strip searched last month before she was allowed to visit her father in a Virginia correctional facility.

On Friday, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said he has halted the prison’s strip search policy, which allowed prison staff to search the child while she was naked.

“I am deeply disturbed by these reports—not just as governor, but as a pediatrician and a dad,” Northam said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE. “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.”

According to the Virginia-Pilot, which first reported the story, the child had gone to visit her father at the Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn on Nov. 24 when her father’s girlfriend, Diamond Peerman, was told that she and the girl would have to be searched after a dog trained to sniff out drugs alerted on Peerman.

Peerman told the paper that she and the girl both stripped naked and were searched before they were allowed to visit the child’s father.

“It is deeply troubling and represents a breach in our protocol,” DOC Director of Communications Lisa Kinney tells PEOPLE in an emailed statement. “We sincerely apologize to this child and her family and will be taking immediate disciplinary action against the person responsible.”

According to the Pilot, prison policy requires a legal guardian’s permission to strip-search a child. Peerman told the paper that she informed prison officials she wasn’t the child’s legal guardian but still had to sign a consent form.

Kinney said prison policy had not been followed.

“Strip search of a minor is extremely rare, and in this case Department procedures weren’t followed,” she said. “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. The staff member who authorized the search of the minor following a K-9 alert didn’t have the authority to do so.”

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The girl’s mother said her daughter was traumatized and had missed school over the incident.

“She’s a minor, she’s a girl. She was traumatized,” she said, according to the Pilot. “She gets emotional, she will break down.”

The girl’s mom said she would not allow her daughter to visit the prison in the future.

“Her and her dad have a good relationship … because she gets to go see him every weekend,” she said. “But, at the same time, she went through something that traumatized her. I’m not sending her back there.”