Pubdate: Sun, 22 Jun 2003
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2003 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Andrea Estes


Three years after a Brockton woman challenged the Plymouth County sheriff's 
department for strip-searching her after two arrests, officials last week 
agreed to pay $1.35 million to settle a class action lawsuit filed on 
behalf of some 700 women illegally strip-searched after their arrest.

The settlement, reached after nine months of negotiations, must still be 
approved by a federal court judge, said lawyers for the women, the 
sheriff's department, and the town of Marshfield.

''The settlement provides everyone with some relief without clogging up the 
court with individual damages trials,'' said Howard Friedman, who 
represents the women. ''We think it's a fair settlement.''

The total settlement amount is comparable to that paid under a similar 
settlement to thousands of women illegally strip-searched at the Nashua 
Street Jail in Boston, said Friedman, who also represented women in that case.

The Brockton woman, Kimberly Connor, sued in 2000 after she was 
strip-searched at the Plymouth County regional lockup for women, which is 
at the Marshfield police station. She was arrested twice -- once in Hanover 
for conspiracy to commit armed robbery, once in Rockland on a cocaine 
possession charge. Both cases were later dismissed.

Area towns without facilities for female prisoners use the Marshfield 
lockup, which is staffed by matrons employed by the sheriff's department.

Women brought to Marshfield were routinely ordered to remove their clothes, 
while a matron looked for weapons and drugs. Many say they were later 
strip-searched a second time, when they were taken to the Plymouth County 
Jail for arraignment. It didn't matter if the women had been arrested for a 
major felony or for a minor offense. A murder suspect was searched, as were 
women arrested for underage drinking or shoplifting, according to records 
reviewed by the Globe.

The women covered by the lawsuit were arrested between 1997 and 2000.

The department changed the policy in 2000, replacing it with one that 
authorizes strip searches only when ''probable cause exists that the 
detainee is concealing weapons or contraband.''

''I was totally naked. The door was open and there were male officers 
walking by,'' Carol MacDonald of West Bridgewater said in a 2000 interview. 
She was strip-searched in 1998 after her arrest for failure to pay a $250 
fine in a credit card case. ''It was horrible.''

''It was one of the worst nights of my life,'' said Ann Paulino of Manomet, 
who was charged with filing a false 911 report. She was later cleared.

''I was there all night crying,'' she said in 2000.

Courts have struggled for years to decide when strip searches are warranted 
to help keep drugs and weapons out of jails. Few judges have opposed 
searching prisoners formally charged with crimes involving violence or drugs.

But in Suffolk and Plymouth counties, women were searched before they had 
seen a judge. Since the mid-1980s, courts in Massachusetts have ruled that 
guards cannot search defendants who have not been arraigned unless there is 
''reasonable suspicion'' to believe they are hiding something.

Douglas Louison, a lawyer for the sheriff's department, said officials 
''never intended to violate the rights of these women.

''They intended merely to apply what was then considered appropriate 
corrections procedures to incarcerated persons coming into the county 
facility. However, their status as pretrial detainees, as opposed to 
inmates of the county, prevented the type of standard strip searches that 
would be permitted for incarcerated individuals.''

Marshfield officials said they did not know women were being strip-searched 
at their facility.

''The town of Marshfield, which was never aware that strip-searching of 
women was going on, took immediate action as soon as we learned about it,'' 
said Leonard Kesten, an attorney representing the town. ''We were as 
shocked as anyone to find out this was going on in our facility,'' said 
Kesten, who called the settlement ''appropriate.''

In Suffolk County, the city of Boston and the sheriff's department agreed 
to pay $10 million to more than 5,000 women who say they were strip 
searched at the Nashua Street Jail.

Under the Plymouth County agreement, the exact amount of each woman's 
payment will depend on how many women come forward. Paulino believes that 
anything less than several thousand dollars would be a ''slap in the face.''

''For what I went through, a few hundred dollars isn't justified,'' 
Paulino, a registered nurse, said last week. ''It was horrendous. To go 
through that humiliation, I want to be at least somewhat compensated. 
Otherwise, I don't think [the lawsuit] made a difference.''
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