NORFOLK — Virginia prosecutors said Wednesday they had dropped all charges against a mother who was accused of illegally recording audio from her daughter’s classroom — an action she said was meant to help her determine whether the child was being bullied.
Sarah Sims, 47, of Norfolk, had been charged this month with a felony — intercepting wire, electronic or oral communications — and with a misdemeanor after her daughter’s elementary school told police it confiscated a digital audio recorder in the girl’s desk in September.
Sims could have been sentenced to up to five years in prison had she been convicted of the felony.
There was enough evidence to support the charges, which included a misdemeanor count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, commonwealth attorney’s office spokeswoman Amanda Howie said.
“However, after reviewing the facts and circumstances specific to this case, the office is exercising prosecutorial discretion to not pursue the prosecution of this case,” Howie said.
The decision to drop the charges comes two days after Sims explained her side of the story on “CNN Tonight.”
‘I was appalled when I heard these charges’
On Monday, Sims told CNN’s Don Lemon that she sent her daughter, a fourth-grader, to school with a digital audio recorder in her backpack in September, hoping to capture audio from class, because the girl had complained she was being bullied.
Before the sent the recorder, Sims said, she reached out to administrators at Ocean View Elementary School to talk about the girl’s complaints.
Sims, who herself is a student at Virginia’s Norfolk State University, said she received no response, so she decided to investigate on her own.
“I’m a full-time student, so I don’t always get the opportunity to be on the premises, and I thought that this would be a good way for me to learn the environment,” Sims, 47, told CNN’s Don Lemon on Monday.
School officials found and confiscated the device, which had been in her daughter’s desk recording the school day, at the end of September.
An arrest warrant was issued November 1, and after she turned herself in, she was arraigned in court on November 8. She posted bond, and a court date was set for January.
“I was appalled when I heard these charges,” Sims’ attorney Kristin Paulding told CNN on Monday. “I was shocked to see that the school would decide to go to the police department and ultimately charge this mother as opposed to sitting her down and having just a simple conversation about what were her concerns and how could the school alleviate those concerns.”
Paulding said the recording device “was a way to make sure that that classroom was a safe place” for the child. Because it was confiscated, Paulding said she doesn’t know what — if anything — the recorder caught.
Norfolk Public Schools referred questions to Norfolk police. CNN reached out to Norfolk police on Monday but authorities declined to comment on the case.
Virginia is a one-party consent state, meaning it is legal for someone to record others when the person recording is involved in the conversation or when one of the parties in the conversation has given prior consent.
It wasn’t the first time her daughter had been bullied at the school, Sims said Monday.
In third grade, her daughter “had been kicked in her stomach and hit with a jump rope on the playground,” Sims said, adding that the school didn’t notify her then.
“She became very anxious about attending,” Sims said. “I removed her from the school because she was refusing to go. She felt like she wasn’t protected.”
Sims said her daughter tried to remain positive when she faced bullying again this school year.
“I did not want to just side with my child. I wanted to be fair,” Sims said.
When her daughter complained, Sims tried to encourage her at first.
“I felt like I kind of let her down a little bit because I wasn’t believing her,” Sims said.
Sims’ daughter still attends the school but is now is a different class.