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$1 Million Settlement Fund Established in New Mexico Jail Strip Search Settlement

$1 Million Settlement Fund Established in New Mexico Jail Strip Search Settlement

by David M. Reutter

A $1 million settlement fund has been established in a class action lawsuit alleging an unconstitutional blanket strip search at the Hidalgo County Detention Center (HCDC) in New Mexico violated the rights of the class.

After John Luke Shannon and John Madrid were arrested on minor charges in separate incidents and taken to HCDC, they were strip searched pursuant to HCDC’s policy “of conducting strip searched of all incoming prearraignment detainees.” They obtained counsel after the strip searches were conducted without HCDC officials “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 class sought relief to stop the blanket searches without individualized reasonable suspicion. The defendants contended the search policies were “reasonably related to legitimate peneological interests in deterring the introduction of weapons, drugs, and other contraband into the detention center.” The parties engaged in mediation on November 6, 2008 that resulted in a settlement.

The settlement establishes the class period is from April 7, 2005 to November 6, 2008 but it notes the strip search policy changed on March 19, 2008. The Settlement Class Members are persons arrested on “Non-VDW Offense[s]” on a charge list.

The settlement fund allocates $50,000 to be split amongst Shannon and Madrid to acknowledge their participation and efforts in the lawsuit. The attorneys for the class will receive $333,333.33 for attorney fees. Cost to administer the fund, provide notice to the class and to process and administer the fund will also come out of the fund. The settlement class members will receive “a pro-rate share of the funds…pursuant to a plan of allocation approved by the Court.”

All Settlement Class Members will be notified by the Administrator by use of information in HCDC’s database. They will be required to file a timely claim or they can choose to opt out. Opting out of failure to file a claim will preclude them from the settlement fund.

Class members will receive a pro-rata share of the funds. If they were strip searched more than once, they will receive an “additional payment equal to 25%,” but they “shall receive compensation from the fund for more than two strip searches.” That payment will be satisfaction for all claims of the class members.

The class was represented by Santa Fe attorneys Robert R. Rothstein, John C. Bienvenu and Mark Donatelli; Las Lunas attorney Michael R. Greigo; Albequerque attorney P. Scott Eaton. See: Torres v. Valencia County Board of Commissioners, USDC, D. New Mexico, Case No: CIV-07-00328 MCA/WDS. The settlement, complaint and other documents in the case are available on PLN’s website.

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Related legal case

Torres v. Valencia County Board of Commissioners