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Michigan Jail Pays $145,000 for Vindictively Exhibiting Naked Detainees in Segregation Cell

Michigan Jail Pays $145,000 for Vindictively Exhibiting Naked Detainees in Segregation Cell

Four former male and female pre-trial detainees sued the Saginaw County, Michigan jail for an outrageous disciplinary policy that forced them to sit in a segregation cell visible to passers-by of both sexes, after first being stripped naked by lecherous guards. On March 20, 2008, a federal jury awarded a total of $145,000 in damages – an amount the plaintiffs’ attorney declared a “victory for justice.”

Each of the four detainees had been jailed for drunken driving, and conceded they had aggravated their jailers. Mark Starkweather, 31, won $50,000 at trial. He admitted to irritating jail guards by repeatedly asking when they would release him. The guards responded by putting him in a segregation cell after relieving him of all his clothes. He spent the night naked in the filthy cell, being observed by jail staff and trustees of both sexes.

Sue Letterman, 55, was awarded $40,000 for her humiliating experience at the jail. She had committed the heinous act of throwing a roll of toilet paper to get the guards’ attention after she was denied a phone call to her daughter. Male guards took her to the cold and dirty segregation cell, where they forced her to disrobe and spend the night without even a blanket.

Joshua Fuller, 30, received $30,000. He was punished by three guards who ordered him to strip naked. When he hesitated, they maced him, forcibly stripped him and put him in the segregation “display” cell. Later, when they asked how he was doing, he said “fine.” One guard replied, “Good, you can stay in longer.” His offense for being placed naked in segregation? He had kicked his cell door.

Justin Anderson, 29, received $25,000 after being similarly stripped and left without a blanket for the night in a segregation cell.

The complaint alleged that as pretrial detainees, the plaintiffs were “forced to completely disrobe and be subjected to viewing by male and female officers and male and female jail trustees ... for punitive, malicious, gratuitous or personal reasons.” The number of complainants demonstrated that the unconstitutional disciplinary procedure amounted to a “policy” or “custom,” as was required for a civil rights claim against the county.
Moreover, while naked in the segregation cell, the detainees were constantly on video monitors for the lurid entertainment of jail guards.

The plaintiffs’ constitutional claims included violation of their rights to privacy, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. Tort claims included infliction of emotional distress, assault and battery, and violation of Michigan’s Elliott Larson Civil Rights Act (MCLA 37.2302(A), MSA 3.548(302)(A)). Class action certification in this case was denied.

The plaintiffs, represented by Flint attorney Christopher J. Pianto, also asked for injunctive relief barring the defendants from future improper behavior. On June 19, 2008, the Court awarded the plaintiffs interest on the $145,000 jury award in an amount to be calculated pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1961. The county did not appeal the jury verdict. See: Rose v. Saginaw County, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Mich.), Case No. 2:01-cv-10337-DML.

Additional source: Saginaw News

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Related legal case

Rose v. Saginaw County