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Jail loses strip-search suit
County employees broke law in checking inmates, jury says

Friday, August 14, 2009
Chicago Sun-Times
by Natasha Korecki

In the biggest class-action suit of its kind, a federal jury ruled Thursday that Cook County Jail employees broke the law in the way they conducted strip-searches of inmates.

The decision potentially exposes the county to millions of dollars in liability.

A separate jury will determine an award for upward of 500,000 inmates.

In the meantime, the Cook County sheriff's office says the case is "ripe for appeal," and that old practices, including strip-searching men side by side in groups, are no more.

Body-scanning machines are now at the jail, which houses 10,000 inmates. Strip-searches are now used only when there's "significant probable cause" that contraband was found, a sheriff's spokesman said.

Plaintiffs' attorney Mike Kanovitz said trial testimony raised questions over whether the old practices have truly been eradicated. In addition, 20 men testified that jail guards used derogatory language or made sex noises while they were bent over. The men were lined up shoulder to shoulder naked, Kanovitz said.

"They described just disgusting and cruel ways that these strip-searches were done," Kanovitz said.

The jury has found that the strip-searches were unconstitutional because they were discriminatory against men, that the strip-searches were used as a form of sexual degradation and that they constituted an unreasonable search.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Patterson said the office believes the case is "ripe for appeal" based on other appellate rulings. The office plans to appeal the case.

"We believe the jail's correctional officers and staff acted appropriately and did not violate anyone's constitutional rights in conducting searches for weapons or contraband before placing them into jail custody," Patterson said.



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