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$5 Million Settlement For Illegal Strip Searches In Las Cruces, NM Jail

$5 Million Settlement For Illegal Strip Searches In Las Cruces, NM Jail

An estimated 11,000 Doña Ana County Detention Center detainees who were illegally strip searched between March 7, 2003 and March 7, 2006 have settled their class action suit against the county for $5 million. Included in the class are all Doña Ana prisoners who were strip searched prior to arraignment, except for those being held on charges involving violence, drugs or weapons. Of the $5 million, $175,000 was reserved for incentive awards of $25,000 to each the seven class representatives. An additional $1,666,667 was allocated for attorney fees and costs. The remaining $3,158,333, less claims administration costs, will be divided among the number of claimants who file, with individual estimated payouts ranging between $1,200 and $2,400.

The seven class representatives, selected because of their absence of conflict of interest, were Jesus Lira, Ben Garcia, Graciela Martinez, Stephen Cutler, Cynthia Archer, Frederick Garcia and Douglas Beider. They were specially remunerated in recognition of their personal efforts to gain a meaningful benefit to the class, and the risks they incurred during the course of litigation.

The proposed class was certified under Fed. Rules Civ. Proc. Rule 23, after considering class numerosity (class so large that joinder of parties is impracticable), common questions of law and fact, typicality (defenses against all claimants are typical) and fairness of representatives so as to adequately protect class interests. After a fairness hearing to receive any objections to the settlement and to permit any dissenting class member to opt out, the settlement was approved.

Claims procedures were adopted. Each qualifying class member may make up to two claims (for separate incidents of illegal strip searches). Any class member who fails to timely file his claim will be forever barred from relief. Class members who opt out in favor of their own private litigation must do so within a specified time. Claims must be filed on the proper form, executed under penalty of perjury, and mailed in. Disputes not resolvable with the administrator may be brought to the attention of the court.

The stipulated agreement also included a change of policy at Doña Ana. As of March 7, 2006, pre-arraignment detainees pending prosecution for charges not involving violence, drugs or weapons will not be strip searched unless there exists reasonable suspicion that a search would be productive of contraband or weapons. The class was represented by Santa Fe attorney Robert Rothstein, Albuquerque attorney Kurt Wihl and Las Cruces attorneys Michael Lilley and Raul Carrillo, Jr. See: Lira v. Doña Ana County Board of Supervisors, U.S.D.C. (D. N.M.), Case No. CIV-06-0179 WPJ/WPL.

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Related legal case

Lira v. Doña Ana County Board of Supervisors

Complaint and settlement are available in the briefbank.