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Pennsylvania Jail Pays $3 Million to Settle Class-Action Strip Search Suit

A $3 million settlement was reached in a class-action civil rights complaint that challenged the blanket strip search policy at Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County Jail (ACJ). The class, which was certified in June 2008, includes almost 13,000 people who were incarcerated at ACJ between July 13, 2004 and March 18, 2008.

The class was comprised of people “charged but not convicted of summary offenses, civil commitments, and traffic violations,” plus “parole or probation violations where the underlying offense is a misdemeanor, summary offense, or traffic infraction,” who were strip searched upon their entry into ACJ.

The district court issued a preliminary injunction on March 18, 2008, enjoining ACJ from conducting strip searches on a blanket basis. ACJ subsequently changed its policy. The new rules permit strip searches for people arrested on minor charges only when “reasonable suspicion” exists that they are hiding illegal drugs or other contraband. A chemical-sensing detector has been installed at ACJ to assist in this process.

The plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment was granted by the court on December 2, 2009, and a settlement was reached in September 2010.

The $3 million settlement provides for the class members to receive a pro rata share of $2 million, as $1 million will go towards attorney fees and costs. Class members can receive a maximum of $3,000 each, but class counsel expects the payouts to be between $600-$900. Any unused funds will be donated to Neighborhood Legal Services of Allegheny County.

The class representatives, Karen Murphy and Harry Delandro, each received $18,000 for providing substantial assistance to counsel in prosecuting the lawsuit. ACJ did not admit any wrongdoing in the settlement, instead citing the need to “avoid the time, expense, and inherent uncertainties of defending protracted litigation.” See: Delandro v. County of Allegheny, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Penn.), Case No. 2:06-cv-00927-TFM.

Additional source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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Related legal case

Delandro v. County of Allegheny