Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Women allege forcible strip searches violated their civil rights

The title of this post comes from this Chicago Tribune story detailing a strip search performed at a jail in LaSalle County, Illinois. After being arrested for a DIU, a woman alleges that she was held down by four prison gaurds--three of which were men--and forcibly strip searched in violation of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. Like several other women, she claims that the prison officials' strip search violated her civil rights and caused her emotional distress. Here is the story:

The attorney for a woman who alleged she was forcibly stripped by LaSalle County deputies after a DUI arrest last spring said other women have come forward claiming similar conduct, and he has asked a federal judge to bar destruction of potential video evidence.

"We have reason to believe there are other women who have been illegally strip-searched by the sheriff's office," attorney Terry Ekl said Monday.

Ekl filed an emergency motion for a protective order, asking that a judge force LaSalle County authorities to preserve all video recordings from inside their jail. He is expected in court on the issue Tuesday.

"It is believed that the video recordings will be destroyed, either routinely or otherwise, if they are not ordered preserved," Ekl's motion read.

A LaSalle County official declined to comment Monday.

"We simply don't comment on pending litigation," said Todd Martin, chief civil assistant with the state's attorney office.

Ekl's client, Dana Holmes of Coal City, cited jailhouse video last week in a lawsuit against LaSalle County authorities. Holmes, a 33-year-old convenience store clerk, alleged the sheriff's department and four deputies violated her civil rights and caused her emotional harm by stripping her naked without legal justification for such a search.

Arrested for drunken driving late May 18, Holmes was stripped hours later by four sheriff's deputies — three men and a woman — after an altercation during a pat-down search. A sheriff's incident report said Holmes was uncooperative while being searched.

Strip searches are permitted under state law if officers have "reasonable belief" that the subject is hiding a weapon or controlled substance on their body. Illinois law requires strip searches to be conducted by an officer who is the same sex as the subject and cannot be observed by people not conducting the search.

Holmes' lawsuit argues that the Sheriff's Office violated state laws on strip searches and fails to train, supervise and discipline officers on proper procedures.

After Holmes' lawsuit was filed, Ekl said his office was contacted by a handful of women who complained of unlawful strip searches. Ekl, a former prosecutor, said his office must determine the circumstances behind each complaint and evaluate their credibility. It's also not clear whether any additional jailhouse strip-search video exists.

For more reporting and video of the alleged strip search see here, here, and here.

Update: Recently, in Florence v. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders, the Supreme Court determined that indiscriminate strip search policies do not violate the Fourth Amendment. Albert Florence filed a complaint after prison officials strip searched him at the county jail following his arrest on an oustanding warrant for unpaid fine, which he had actually paid. Before it was over, Florence was eventually strip searched twice--once at the county jail to which he was taken after his arrest, and again at the county jail to which he was tranferred six days later.

The Court asked "whether undoubted security imperatives involved in jail supervision override the assertion that some detainees must be exmpt from the more invasive search procedures at issue absent reasonable suspicion of a concealed weapon or other contraband." The Court answered in the affirmative citing evidence showing that even "people arrested for minor offenses have tired to smuggle prohibited intems into jail, sometimes by using their rectal cavities or genitals for the concealment." The Court did not find "substanial evidence" that the blanket strip search policies of the jails were "unnecessary or unjustified." Thus, pursuant to its earlier decision in Bell v. Wolfish, the Court deferred to the "judgment of correction officials." 

Unlike the blanket strip search policy affirmed by the Court in Florence, Illinois law requires "reasonable belief" that an arrestee actually possess weapons or contraband in order to conduct a strip search.  Further, in the present case, the attorney claims that the LaSalle County officials did not actually strip search the women--they just stripped them.

Also, as the above article notes, the law in Illinois requires strip searches to be performed by officers of the same sex as the arrestee. In this case, the video appears to show several male officers participating in the alleged search.

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Maybe the procedures exercised in Airports would be wise in the jail setting.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Oct 14, 2013 11:47:26 AM

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