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New strip-search settlement at Cook County Jail

Friday, January 14, 2011
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

A federal lawsuit related to strip searches at the Cook County Jail likely will end up draining about $4.2 million more from county coffers less than two months after the county agreed to pay out $55.3 million in a separate strip-search case.

The County Board next week will vote on the smaller settlement. It is designed to end a class action lawsuit filed in 2004 by men who were strip searched before being released from the jail after a judge ruled in their favor, said Thomas Morrissey, who filed the case.

Up to 150,000 men would be eligible for settlements, according to settlement documents filed with the court. Individual settlements would be as high as $200, but they will depend on how many men file the paperwork to get them.

Men who were strip searched between Feb. 12, 2002 and March 2009, after a judge ordered them released because a case had been decided in their favor, would be eligible for the settlements, the documents state.

Although judges ordered them released, they were returned to the jail and strip searched in groups with detainees not ordered released, Morrissey said. They were then released at night, he said.

“They should have been released from the jail without being searched,” he said.

He said the strip searches stopped in March 2009 after the sheriff’s Office fully implemented electronic scanning that made those searches obsolete.

The more expensive 2006 case that was settled in November dealt with strip searches of detainees who entered the jail between Jan. 30, 2004 and March 19, 2009, when the electronic scanning was fully implemented.

In the 2006 case, onetime detainees were eligible for awards of up to $1,000. In some cases, detainees may be eligible for awards in both cases, the court documents state.

In neither case did the county admit any wrongdoing.

Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, said that if the settlement is approved Wednesday, it should bring an end to all of the cases involving strip searches at the jail. “Hopefully, this is the last time we will do this,” he said.


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