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Posted: 6/7/2003 10:32:33 AM EDT
The Sacramento Bee -- sacbee.com -- Strip-search ruling forces big changes http://www.sacbee.com/content/news/story/6807539p-7757988c.html This story is taken from News at sacbee.com. Strip-search ruling forces big changes By Mareva Brown -- Bee Staff Writer - (Published June 7, 2003) For half a century, deputies at the Sacramento County jail have routinely ordered inmates to take off their clothing and submit to a visual body cavity search, a procedure tacitly approved by the state's Board of Corrections. Similar searches happen every day in California jails. So officials weren't worried when former inmates filed a class-action suit two years ago in Sacramento Superior Court, contending that group searches of people arrested for nonviolent misdemeanors were illegal. County officials were stunned when a judge ruled against them. "When a state watchdog agency gives you a thumbs up, and you're doing what everybody else in the state is doing, there's no reason to believe you're doing anything wrong," said sheriff's Capt. David Lind, who oversees the jail. Sacramento's high-profile loss has rattled jail officials across the state who now are engaged in a debate over the balance between jail security and inmates' rights. Last month, jail commanders met in Fresno to review state law, which says strip-searches can be done on people arrested for misdemeanors only if there is "reasonable suspicion" that they are smuggling contraband. At a conference of the California Peace Officers Association in Monterey, the group's general counsel, Martin J. Mayer, told officials to review their policies. The judgment against Sacramento is not the only notable strip-search case this year. Los Angeles County supervisors settled a case this spring, and a pending suit against the city of San Francisco alleges a woman was forcibly strip-searched when she refused to submit voluntarily. "It's a hot topic," said San Benito County Sheriff Curtis Hill, chairman of the California State Sheriffs' Association's jail and corrections committee. "It's constantly being discussed now." Officials say the everyday reality of maintaining safety in a jail means thorough searches must be done on every inmate, regardless of their crime. "When we're placing someone in the general jail population, we have an obligation to ensure the safety of the staff and inmates inside," Mayer said. "And without being gross about it, it's not uncommon to find a weapon -- a razor or knife -- concealed in (someone's) buttocks." Civil rights lawyers and some former inmates say that policy violates state law. They say that the searches are inhumane and humiliating and that jail officials routinely trample on the civil rights of people arrested who have yet to be convicted of a crime or even formally charged with one. "In prison, group nudity is very common," said attorney Mark Merin, who filed the Sacramento and San Francisco suits. "If someone is smoking dope on a cellblock, they strip-search everyone. But there are different levels of protection before someone is convicted." Sacramento officials have modified the practice of doing group searches of every inmate housed at the jail in the wake of Judge Thomas M. Cecil's ruling, which is being appealed. Cecil based his ruling on a 1984 California law that defined reasonable suspicion as an arrest for a violent crime, weapons charge or drug offense, or when jail officials had other reasons to believe contraband was hidden. A legislative counsel opinion issued to clarify the law said officials also may search anyone sent to the general jail population, which has been the practice of Sacramento officials. Despite Sacramento's assertion that state inspectors should have caught the problematic policy, Board of Corrections Executive Director Tom McConnell said biennial inspections are focused only on verifying that a policy governing strip-searches exists in each jail. This spring, Los Angeles County also revised its strip-search policy after settling a $2.7 million suit brought by female bicyclists who were arrested during a protest. The women were strip-searched before being arraigned. Now, before arraignment, inmates are kept apart from the general jail population and are not strip-searched. Merin says that for him, the issue is a matter of human decency. He said he has thousands of statements from women who were strip-searched while inmates in the Sacramento jail. "We're talking about young women, old women, people who are obese, people who have never been nude in public." Mary Bull, an environmental activist, was the only named plaintiff in the Sacramento case. She and others were arrested in March 2000 for disrupting a state hearing on logging policy, a misdemeanor. Bull has been arrested so often she can't recall how many times she has been jailed. But she said her Sacramento experience evoked images "of the Holocaust ... where women are huddling in a corner, covering their private parts, totally humiliated." She also filed the San Francisco case after being arrested Nov. 18 on a felony vandalism charge while pouring red-colored corn syrup on the steps of Chevron's corporate headquarters on Market Street in an anti-war protest. That suit claims Bull, 48, was twice forced to the ground by deputies who stripped her and visually examined her body cavities after she refused to consent to the search. She was thrown nude, after each search, into a cold room for up to 12 hours at a time, it says. A spokesman for the San Francisco city attorney said it is premature to comment on the case. Bull said she believes that middle-class, educated women, like herself, are obligated to speak out about the civil rights violations they experience in jail. "Most of the people (in jail) are disempowered," she said. "They're not going to fight back. They don't have the means or the motivation or the resources." Leellen Patchen, a television producer from Los Angeles, said she has been forever changed by the visual body cavity search she was forced to undergo. -- continued --
Link Posted: 6/7/2003 10:35:46 AM EDT
"It was the most humiliating, demoralizing moment of my life," said Patchen, who was held in a Los Angeles jail for three days for a domestic violence charge that was never filed in court. She and her ex-husband were arrested in 1987 after she called police to say he had knocked her unconscious and he accused her of slapping his face. Even after a judge ordered her release, Patchen said she was taken to jail and searched in a hallway with about 30 other women. She said deputies ordered them to remove their clothing an item at a time, and drop it behind them while staring straight ahead at a wall. "And then, you know, we got down to our underwear, and we had to take that off," said Patchen, who said she sobbed during the search. "And then we had to bend over. ... And after that they came by and we had to (facilitate the inspection) for them, one at a time. It was awful." Jail officials acknowledge the experience may be far from pleasant, but they say it is necessary. Sacramento and Los Angeles deputies have found "shanks," or knives, encased in gloves and hidden in body cavities. Last year, a handcuff key was found hidden in the penis of a Sacramento inmate. And drugs are a constant issue. "You have a whole system of commerce with narcotics in the jail," said Sacramento County Undersheriff John McGinness. "It creates wealth and power, and in a jail you want everybody on a level playing field (for safety)." Inmates who might not be inclined to smuggle drugs or weapons into jail may be pressured to pick up contraband on trips to court, officials said. "When you first get arrested, you don't have time to stash your contraband," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Donald Thompson. "But when you've been in custody for a while, you have time to plan. There are not always model citizens in the jail." The Bee's Mareva Brown can be reached at (916) 321-1088 or mbrown@sacbee.com. This article is protected by copyright and should not be printed or distributed for anything except personal use. The Sacramento Bee, 2100 Q St., P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852 Phone: (916) 321-1000 Copyright © The Sacramento Bee / ver. 4
Link Posted: 6/7/2003 1:52:15 PM EDT
Not surprising that the court ruled that way. It has been long-standing doctrine at the federal court level that while it doesn't take much to require a strip search at Booking (reasonable suspicion that contraband is concealed), it does take SOMETHING more than a hunch or "standard procedure, and that strip searches can not be ROUTINELY performed at booking. Prison is a different deal, and if the arresting or booking officer has any articulable facts that contraband is concealed, then a strip search is generally held to be permissible, although the courts seem to prefer some supervisory oversight, first. Strip searches are usually performed, and preferred by the courts to be performed, by employees of the same sex as the prisoner. Reminds me of a real smart Aleck stripper I arrested once (she had some warrants). She was very difficult on the way to the jail, and I just ignored her. At the jail, they have a list of questions they ask about suicide screening, mental health and contraband. She told them that she had body piercings in private areas, and she said that she would not remove them, although jail policy forbids prisoners from wearing them. That didn't make the Corrections Officers very happy. When they asked her about contraband, she sarcastically told them, "Yeah. I have a bag of cocaine in my ****h." When they told her to remove it, she flipped them off. A team of the biggest, meanest bull-dykes one has ever seen dragged her off into another room for the search, complete with a small set of bolt cutters for the body piercings, and fresh latex gloves. Ouch.
Link Posted: 6/7/2003 2:37:41 PM EDT
[Last Edit: 6/8/2003 6:20:49 PM EDT by VX]
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