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Santa Cruz County, Arizona Pays $3 Million in Strip Search Suit

On November 25, 2008, following two days of negotiation mediated by retired Pima County, Arizona Superior Court Judge, Honorable Lawrence Fleishman, the parties involved in a Class Action complaint regarding unconstitutional strip searches reached a satisfactory settlement, which now is subject to approval by an Arizona district court.

The complaint was filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 on February 25, 2008 by George Victor Garcia against Santa Cruz County, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada and a number of Sheriff’s Deputies. At issue was the alleged Fourth Amendment violations in connection with the County’s practice of strip searching pre-arraignment arrestees “for whom there was no reasonable suspicion that they may be attempting to conceal contraband or weapons, and the strip searches were conducted in an area where others, not participating in the searches, could observe the person being strip searched and who included members of the opposite sex.” The Class Members represented in this action include all arrestees who were booked into any Santa Cruz County detention facility between February 25, 2006 and August 26, 2008 that were strip searched prior to arraignment.

The terms of the settlement leave Santa Cruz County responsible for a maximum payment of $3,187,300. Of that amount, $725,000 is allocated for attorney’s fees and costs to be paid to Class Counsel Mark E. Merin and the Law Office of Mark E. Merin of Sacramento, California, Andrew Schwartz of Casper, Meadows, Schwartz, & Cook in Wal-nut Springs, California and Robert Rothstein of Rothstein, Donatelli, Hughes, Dahlstrom, Schoenburg, & Bienvenu, LLP in Santa Fe, New Mexico. An additional $250,000 is allotted for costs of claims administration, including Class notifications and processing of claims. George Garcia, the Representative Plaintiff, is to be compensated with $50,000, and the balance of the settlement, $2,162,300, is to pay verified claims to Class Members.

The individual Class Member payments will vary depending on a number of factors. For instance, although some Class Members, depending on their crime and specific circumstances at the time of their booking and strip search, will be entitled to receive $15. Others may receive up to $70. And still others, as much as $3,500. Added to this amount, comes what are referred to as “Enhancements,” which consist of an additional $250 payment for EACH of three possible condi-tions: (l) they were under 21 or over 60 at the time of the qualifying strip search; (2) they had a physical or mental disabil-ity at the time of the strip search; (3) they were pregnant at the time of the strip search. Lastly, Class Members who are able to provide records or reports from a licensed professional establishing that he sustained and received treatment for a physical, emotional or psychological injury caused by the strip search, will be entitled to an additional award of not less than $1000 and not more than $5000.

All these terms are subject to court approval, and the specific amounts will be adjusted as necessary in order to pro-vide proportional payments to each verified Class Member and to insure the total amount does not exceed $2,162,300. The bar date for anyone wishing to join the action was May 16, 2009. All claim forms must be post-marked by May 16, 2009 in order to qualify for any possible payment. Anyone who believes he is a Class Member and wishes to obtain a claim form is urged to write Garcia v. County of santa Cruz Strip Search Class Action, c/o Claims Administrators, P.O Box 8060, San Rafael, California 94912-8060. Or contact the Law Office of Mark E. Merin, 2001 P Street, Ste. 100, Sacra-mento, California 95811, (916) 443-6911, email:

See: Garcia v. Santa Cruz County, U.S.D.C.-AZ, Tucson, #cv-08-00139-TUC-RCC. Stipulation of Settlement

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Related legal case

Garcia v. Santa Cruz County