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Illinois jury clears woman who was accused of stealing earbuds 4 years ago in high school

Aug. 10, 2023
The case focused attention on the practice of police issuing tickets to students at school.

A jury has found a former Naperville, Illinois, high school student not liable in an unusual civil trial involving a set of disputed AirPods and a ticket issued to the student nearly four years ago.by a Naperville police officer.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the jury ruled in favor of Amara Harris, 20, who was issued a ticket in 2019 when she was a student at Naperville North High School.

An officer assigned to Naperville North wrote her a ticket that accused her of stealing another girl’s AirPods, a violation of municipal law.

The case focused attention on the widespread practice of police ticketing students at school,

ProPublica and the Tribune reported on Harris’ case last year as part of an investigation in which reporters documented 12,000 tickets Illinois students received over nearly three years for violations including possession of vaping devices, disorderly conduct and truancy. Fines associated with the tickets can run into the hundreds of dollars.

The investigation also found that Black students at Naperville North High School were almost five times more likely than their white classmates to receive tickets. Harris is Black.

Most students who receive municipal ordinance citations admit liability and pay the fine. Because of the lower burden of proof, fighting the tickets is difficult and costly. 

After the verdict, one of Harris’ attorneys, S. Todd Yeary, called the ticketing system a “money grab” and the decision to prosecute Harris “malicious.”

Harris had maintained that she picked up another student’s AirPods accidentally, mistaking them for her own. Supported by her mother, she declined to pay a fine or settle the case.

The city of Naperville took the matter all the way to a jury trial at the DuPage County Courthouse.

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy has been writing about education for American School & University since 1999. He also has reported on schools and other topics for The Chicago Tribune, The Kansas City Star, The Kansas City Times and City News Bureau of Chicago. He is a graduate of Michigan State University.

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