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York County, Maine, Settles Class Action Strip-Search Suit for $3,300,000

In April 2005, York County, Maine, agreed to settle for $3,300,000 a class action lawsuit alleging the county maintained an unconstitutional policy of strip-searching all pre-arraignment detainees in the York County Jail regardless of the charge against them.

Plaintiffs Michele Nilsen end Michael Goodrich contended that upon being placed in the York County Jail for minor offenses, they were unconstitutionally strip-searched: Nilsen following a January 13, 1999, arrest for driving with a suspended license; Goodrich following a February 12, 2003, arrest for failing to report to his probation officer.
Nilsen and Goodrich specifically contended that the jail maintained en unconstitutional custom or policy of strip-searching all pre-arraignment detainees indiscriminately--whether arrested for unpaid parking tickets or a felony--and sought class action certification. A magistrate for the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine agreed and certified a class consisting of all persons strip-searched at the jail between October 14, 1996, and April 30, 2004, who were not individually evaluated for reasonable suspicion while awaiting a first court appearance or for bail to be set after being arrested on charges or a warrant that did not involve a weapon, drugs, or a violent felony.

Through mediation, the parties agreed to settle for $3,300,000 and the county's promise to institute and maintain a new privacy policy for pre-arraignment detainees.

Under the settlement agreement, each of the approximately 7,000 persons in the class are entitled to a one time cash payment, no matter how many times they were placed in the jail are strip-searched. Women, who make up 17% of the class, will receive twice the amount paid to men. Attorney's fees were requested at 30% of the gross settlement amount.

The plaintiffs were represented by David C. Webbert of the Portland, Maine, law firm of Johnson & Webbbert, and Howard Friedman of Boston. Plaintiffs had also retained correctional standards expert Thomas A. Rosazza of Colorado Springs, Colorado. See: Nilsen v. York County, USDC D ME, Case No. 02-212-P-H.

Source: New England Jury Verdict Review & Analysis

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Related legal case

Nilsen v. York County