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$3.3 Million Settlement Fund Established in New Mexico Jail Strip Search Settlement

A $3.3 million settlement fund has been established in a class action lawsuit alleging an unconstitutional blanket strip search at the Valencia County Detention Center (VCDC) in New Mexico violated the rights of the class. VCDC was operated under contract by private prison vendor Cornell Companies, Inc.

The lead plaintiffs in the action, Jose Torres and Eufrasio Armijo, were arrested on minor charges in separate inci-dents and taken to VCDC and strip searched “without regard to the nature of” the alleged offenses for which Plaintiffs had been arrested, and without Defendants having a reasonable belief that the Plaintiffs possessed weapons or contraband, or that there existed facts supporting a reasonable belief that the search would produce contraband or weapons.”

The complaint sought to discontinue the blanket strip search policy to require such searches only when there is “indi-vidualized reasonable suspicion.” HCDC contended the policy was related to “legitimate peneological interests in deterring the introduction of weapons, drugs, or other contraband into the detention center.” The parties engaged in three days of mediation that resulted in a settlement on September 22, 2008.

That settlement established a class period from April 3, 2004 to April 3, 2007. The strip search policy changed on De-cember 5, 2006 as a result of efforts between the parties. The settlement class members include persons arrested on “Non-VDW offense[s]” on the charge list that is part of the settlement.

Torres and Armijo were allocated $85,000 to be split evenly amongst them for their efforts in the lawsuit. The attor-neys for the class will receive $1,100,000 for attorney fees and costs. The costs to administer the fund will also come out of the Settlement Fund.

The Administrator is to notify the class members by using the last known information in HCDC’s database. They then must submit a valid and timely claim to receive funds from the settlement. Failure to file a claim or voluntary opt out will preclude receipt of any funds from the settlement.
The class was represented by Santa Fe attorneys Robert Rothstein, Mark H. Donatelli and John C. Bienvenu, as well as Las Cruces attorneys Michael W. Lilley and Marc A Lilley.

See: Shannon v. Hidalgo County Board of Commissioners, USDC D. New Mexico, Case No: CIV-08-0369 JN/LFG

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Related legal case

v. Hidalgo County Board of Commissioners