Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

San Mateo County, California, Settles Strip-Search Suit for $1.9 Million

On February 5, 2007, San Mateo County, California, agreed to pay $1.9 million to settle a class action lawsuit alleging that an estimated 1,200 women were illegally strip-searched at the county jail between February 3, 2002, and December 2, 2003.

Sharon Gallagher, lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, claimed she was wrongfully strip-searched at the San Mateo County Jail after being arrested by Pacifica police on a three-year-old traffic warrant. She was again strip-searched three hours later when she was transferred to the San Mateo Women?s Correctional Center. Both strip-searches included a visual body cavity inspection of Gallagher?s genitals.

Within six months, Gallagher, 36, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. She alleged the County?s policy of strip-searching all arrestees, regardless of any individualized suspicion, violated both state and federal law.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that strip-searches prior to arraignment are unlawful unless there is reason to believe the arrestee is hiding a weapon or other contraband. Moreover, strip-searches are prohibited under California law prior to arraignment unless the person is suspected of a crime involving drugs, weapons, or violence.

?Nonetheless, county jails have continued to strip-search other people who are brought into custody,? said attorney Mark Merin, who represented Gallagher in the class-action suit.

Up to 1,200 women are eligible to receive $1.15 million of the total $1.9 million settlement. The rest will be used for attorney fees.

?It would be great if we had a high rate of claim filing in this case,? Merin told PLN.

Merin has also recently been successful in other large strip-search actions. More than 3,000 juveniles illegally strip-searched in Sacramento County will share more than $4 million. Another lawsuit, this one against Alameda County for wrongful strip-searches at the Glenn Dyer and Santa Rita jails, settled in May 2007 for $6.2 million.

Merin is also in the process of getting class action certification in a lawsuit against Contra Costa County for strip-searching persons booked with non-violent, non-drug, and non-weapons related charges between October 20, 2002 and June 1, 2003.

?If any of your readers could be in this group, I would love to hear from them,? Merin told PLN. He can be reached at the Law Office of Mark E. Merin, 2001 P Street, Suite 100, Sacramento, California, 95814.

Attorney Andrew Charles Schwartz of Walnut Creek, California, assisted in the case. See: Gallagher v. County of San Mateo, USDC ND, Case No. C-04-0448-SBA.

Additional source: San Mateo Daily News

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Gallagher v. County of San Mateo