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Los Angeles County Pays $2.75 Million for Illegal Strip Searches

by John E. Dannenberg

The County of Los Angeles settled
for $2.75 million the complaints of illegal strip searches and body cavity searches of female demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention in August, 2000, and the mistreatment and over detention of all plaintiffs. An additional settlement with the City of Los Angeles for wrongful arrest of all class members is pending approval.

Juliet Musso, Susanne Blossom, Ron Milan, Derek Iverson and Christopher Weare were class representatives of 71 individuals suing the County of Los Angeles, Sheriff Lee Baca, and the City of Los Angeles, Police Chief Bernard Parks, their agents and officers, for damages resulting from their wrongful arrest, detention, and strip searches.

Plaintiffs, numbering 100-200, were peacefully participating in the political process, while demonstrating their support for non-polluting transportation by riding their bicycles to the Convention, when they were corralled by Los Angeles police, herded under a freeway, handcuffed and arrested without warrants or probable cause that they had committed a crime. Their bicycles were confiscated and damaged. Misdemeanor charges were fabricated to detain and jail them, notwithstanding a cite-and-release law for such events.

Twice, while in jail, the 23 female detainees (only) were subjected to invasive, humiliating and public strip and body cavity searches, although California law (Penal Code § 4030) prohibits such searches for alleged minor offenders. Los Angeles County had just paid $27 million for such illegal searches [see PLN, Jan. `03, p.14] after it were settled that the County was not immune from suit. (Streit v. County of Los Angeles, 236 F.3d 552 (9th Cir. 2001); PLN, Feb. '02, p.26.)

Represented by Manes & Watson of Los Angeles, the class sued in Los Angeles Superior Court for false arrest and imprisonment, battery, violations of duties, negligence and violation of basic rights protected under California Civil Code §§ 51.7, 52 and 52.1. Additionally, as taxpayers, they protested misuse of public funds under Code of Civil Procedure § 526a and demanded injunctive relief to cease and desist such fiscal abuse.

The females (only) were transported to and from court shackled together with chains while all plaintiffs were subject to unlawful jail conditions/treatment. Telephone calls were unreasonably delayed and denied; basic hygiene products were not provided; food was late, inedible, moldy and/or did not comply with dietary requirements. Finally, plaintiffs were imprisoned for 12 hours after all charges against them had been dismissed.

Los Angeles city police shamefully targeted the plaintiffs for this mistreatment solely because they publicly exercised their constitutional rights to freedom of assembly and speech. The female plaintiffs were further selected for physical and psychological abuse because of their gender.

Police and sheriff personnel, fresh from their $27 million over detention/abusive strip search judgment, continued undeterred to wantonly violate state laws governing arrest and detention of cite-and-release level offenders. See: Musso v. County of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Superior Court No. BC249642. g

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Related legal case

Musso v. County of Los Angeles