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$10 Million Settlement in Boston Strip Search Suit

On July 8, 2002, both Suffolk County and the City of Boston entered into a settlement agreement to pay $10 million for violating the equal protection rights of female detainees at the Suffolk County Jail who, unlike similarly situated male detainees, were strip-searched when being booked. The settlement includes costs, administration fees, bonus awards and a 30% fee award to plaintiffs' attorney Howard Friedman.

Encompassing the period between December 10, 1995 and September 20, 1999, the Agreement covers female detainees booked into the Suffolk County Jail by either the Suffolk Sheriff or the Boston Police Department pending a first court appearance or after an arrest on a default warrant, and who were subjected to a routine strip search and body cavity search pursuant to the policy of the Sheriff.

The Settlement Agreement provides for an administrator and a special master who will seek out members of the class by newspaper advertising and by using computerized booking records. With $5 million from each of Suffolk County and the City of Boston due by November 29, 2002, the funds will be disbursed per the Distribution Formula.

This Formula defines four categories of claimants, assigning "points" inversely proportional to the severity of the offense for which they were detained. The concept is that those claimants whose offenses had the lowest degree of threat to Jail security should be compensated the most for the unnecessary invasion of their privacy. Category I (20 points) includes motor vehicle and other petty offenses. Category II (10 points) is characterized by assaultive crimes and includes parole violations. Category III (5 points) encompasses violent crimes, including burglary, robbery and murder. Category IV (1 point) covers drug and prostitution offenses. Any claimant with two such bookings in the covered period is automatically dropped down one category.

The Formula then sums all claimants' points and divides this into the $10 million fund, net of attorney fees, bonus awards and administration costs. The value of each point, times the number of points, determines each class member's award.

Bonus awards are also provided for class members who served as a class representative ($15,000); were the subject of a deposition ($5,000); had prepared to testify for a trial ($4,000); had provided an affidavit in support of the class motion for summary judgment ($500); and for those who spoke with the media before the case was settled ($1,500). See: Ford, et al., v. Suffolk County, No. 98-11346-NG, USDC (D. Mass.), Settlement Agreement and Distribution Formula, July 8, 2002.

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Related legal case

Ford, et. al. v. Suffolk County