Charges dropped against mom who put recorder in daughter’s backpack

Sarah Sims
(WAVY Photo)

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Charges have been dropped against the Norfolk mother who put a digital audio recorder in her daughter’s backpack.

The Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office says it asked the judge to dismiss all charges after the office had a chance to thoroughly review the case.

“I can breathe,” Sarah Sims said after Wednesday’s hearing. “This boulder I’ve had on my chest for weeks was just alleviated. I slept pretty good for a solid three hours. It’s been hell to be honest with you. It has been tumultuous and exhausting to say the least.”

WAVY first reported last week that Sims was charged with felony use of a device to intercept oral communication and a misdemeanor, contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The felony charge could have carried five years in prison.

The attorney’s office said, in part:

“Our resulting review of the report and the law finds the evidence does support probable cause for the 2 charges against Ms. Sims; however, after reviewing the facts and circumstances specific to this case, this Office is exercising prosecutorial discretion to not pursue the prosecution of this case. This morning (11/29/17), the Court granted this Office’s motion to dismiss the charges against Ms. Sims. This criminal case is now concluded and this Office has no further comment to provide.”

Sims told WAVY her 9-year-old daughter was getting bullied at Ocean View Elementary. She claimed repeated calls and emails to the school went unreturned.

“The thing that bothers me the most is that I am yet to get a response from anyone in the administration,” Sims added.

Sims said she took actions into her own hands. She wanted to prove that nothing was being done to help her fourth-grade daughter. She put a digital recorder into her daughter’s backpack in hopes of catching audio from inside the classroom.

“If I’m not getting an answer from you, what am I left to do?” Sims said.

The girl took the recorder out of her backpack and put it on her desk. That’s where the recorder was found. She has since been moved to a new classroom.

“I was mortified,” Sims said. “The next thing I know I’m a felon. Felony charges and a misdemeanor when I’m trying to look out for my kid. What do you do?”

WAVY contacted Norfolk Public Schools last week and was told because it is a pending investigation no one could comment on what happened. The school district released a statement Wednesday afternoon:

“Norfolk Public Schools (NPS) takes any accusation of bullying, whether by a student or staff member very seriously. In every instance a thorough investigation is performed. In addition, school and district administrators always work closely with parents and students to quickly address concerns and offer accommodations when necessary. It is NPS’ practice to handle parent complaints internally.

“With regard to Ms. Sims’ case, the district had a responsibility to fully investigate the alleged incident and as such a legal review was requested from the district’s counsel (Norfolk City Attorney’s Office). After review of the incident, counsel forwarded the matter to the Norfolk Police Department for investigation. That investigation then resulted in criminal charges against Sarah Sims. As the location of the offense was one of our schools, NPS had a duty to fully cooperate with authorities. This included not commenting on a pending legal matter, as is customary in all school districts.

“We are committed to providing high-quality academic instruction to all students in a safe and secure environment. Parents receive the NPS Student Handbook and Code of Conduct at the start of each school year; page 43 #3 addresses electronic recording devices. Should parents or guardians have concerns about their child, they are encouraged to communicate them immediately to the appropriate school-level administrator. Both students and staff are afforded due process in these matters.”

“I think it was a combination of factors,” said Sims’ attorney Kristin Paulding. “The strength of their evidence along with some of the public and national outcry that we were getting as a result of what happened to Sarah.”

Sims said she plans to have her record expunged and is considering legal action against the city or school system.