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Summary Judgment Granted Against Cook County in Challenge to Strip Search Policy

By Brandon Sample

On July 30, 2008, U.S. District Judge Elaine E. Buchlo granted a motion for summary judgment filed by the plaintiffs in a class action suit challenging the Cook County Department of Corrections’ (CCDC) policy and/or practice of strip searching male prisoners returning from court that have been ordered released.

Quentin Bullock and Jack Reid, individually and on behalf of a class, sued Cook County over its policy/practice of strip searching male court releases. The plaintiffs moved for summary judgment, arguing that the policy violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because female court releases were not subjected to strip searches. In addition, the plaintiffs alleged that the policy violated the Fourth Amendment.

The court began its analysis with the plaintiffs’ equal protection claim. For a variety of reasons, the defendants had argued that the plaintiffs were not “similarly situation” to female court releases and that even if they were, the policy was not the product of discriminatory intent. The court, however, found otherwise.

“Male discharges are similarly situated to female discharges…in all material respects,” the court wrote. Further, the defendants’ policy furthered a discriminatory purpose because it singled out males. The defendants’ argument that males might smuggle weapons of contraband into the jail was believed by the defendants’ admission that “female discharges are capable of smuggling contraband into the jail.”

Accordingly, the court found that the defendants’ “blanket strip search policy of male discharges deprived plaintiffs of their constitutional right to Equal Protection.”

Turning to the plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment claim, the court began by noting the “inherently invasive” nature of strip searches The intrusion was made worse in the plaintiffs’ case, the court wrote, because the searches took place “in a large group setting in a public hallway…[with prisoners] placed approximately arm’s length apart.” “Less intrusive and equally effective alternative[s]” existed to the defendants’ pubic search policy such as employing privacy screens, the court held. Accordingly, the court decided that the defendants’ search policy violated the Fourth Amendment as well.

See: Bullock v. Sheahan, No. 04 c 1051 (N.D.Ill.2008).

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Related legal case

Bullock v. Sheahan