Virginia Mother Charged With Felony After Putting Recording Device in Daughter’s Backpack to Catch Bullies

Most parents would do anything to protect their children—even give their own life if they had to. The mother of a child who is being repeatedly bullied at school has few options if the school doesn’t respond to the family’s complaints, and sometimes they have to take matters into their own hands. What happens when their actions to protect their child lead to them facing criminal charges?

Sarah Sims of Norfolk, Va., is pondering that question right now. She told 10 On Your Side that her daughter was being bullied at Ocean View Elementary School, and after her repeated calls and emails to the school went unanswered, she decided to figure out another way to help her daughter.

In late September, Sims decided to prove that nothing was being done to protect her fourth-grade daughter from the bullying, so she put a digital recorder in her daughter’s backpack. She hoped to catch audio from inside the classroom.

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

When the recorder was discovered, her 9-year-old daughter was moved to another classroom, and a month later Sims was charged by police.

“I was mortified,” Sims told 10 On Your Side. “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?”

10 On Your Side contacted the school district and was informed that no one could comment on what happened because an investigation is pending. It was also informed that no electronic devices are allowed in elementary schools.

Sims has been charged with felony use of a device to intercept oral communication, which carries a possible penalty of five years in prison. In addition, she was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a misdemeanor.

Her attorney, Kristin Paulding, told 10 On Your Side: “They aren’t making this about that classroom. These are charges that carry jail time.”

Paulding believes that the two charges are a stretch and that neither will hold up in court.

“We are at the very early stages of this, but even at the early stages, I think the community needs to know that this is happening, because any parent out there that is sending their child to school now could be at risk for something that happened to Sarah,” Paulding said.

Sims has a preliminary hearing set for Jan. 18.