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$6.2 Million Settlement Reached in D.C. Jail Strip Search, Overdetention Suit

$6.2 Million Settlement Reached in D.C. Jail Strip Search, Overdetention Suit

by Derek Gilna

An eight-year-old lawsuit alleging illegal overdetention and strip searches of detainees at the District of Columbia Jail concluded with a $6.2 million settlement. The class-action suit had accused the jail of wrongfully strip-searching prisoners who should have already been released and delaying prisoners’ release from custody. [See: PLN, Aug. 2007, p.33].

In 2011, U.S. District Court Senior Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that D.C. officials had violated prisoners’ civil rights, but gave the city a limited victory by narrowing the time period within which the jail was liable for those violations.

The complaint was originally brought by Carl A. Barnes, David Peterson, Toney James Malloy and Maurice Williams, individually and on behalf of a class of individuals “who were injured ... by the District’s conduct in subjecting them to blanket strip searches and visual body cavity searches ... after they were returned to a Department of Corrections facility after a judicial determination that there was no longer a basis for their detention, other than to be processed for release, and by [the] District’s deliberate indifference to the effect of the practice of blanket strip searches and visual body cavity searches on the rights of inmates.”

The plaintiffs alleged that they were entitled to bring the action based upon 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourth, Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, “for injuries suffered by them, because the District subjected them and the class to the blanket strip searches.”

The case went to a jury trial in March 2013, which resulted in a verdict in favor of the defendants on overdetention claims between 2007 and 2008; however, the district court had previously granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs on their claims related to strip searches and overdetentions from 2005 to 2006.

The court granted preliminary approval of the $6.2 million settlement in November 2013 and granted final approval on March 18, 2014. Additionally, the court entered an order on attorney fees, holding that D.C. must pay class counsel $2 million in fees plus costs of $425,000. The plaintiffs were represented by the Pasadena, California law firm of Litt, Estuar & Kitson LLP, as well as attorney William Claiborne III in Washington, D.C. and Virginia attorney Ralph D. Robinson. See: Barnes v. Government of the District of Columbia, U.S.D.C. (D. D.C.), Case No. 1:06-cv-00315-RCL.

Plaintiffs’ counsel noted that the District of Columbia Jail had made progress in eliminating the worst of the abuses in the past several years, and commended jail officials for the reforms that had been made. However, the question arises as to why it cost D.C. taxpayers millions of dollars and many years of costly litigation for the jail to finally end its ongoing violations of prisoners’ constitutional rights.

The settlement was the latest to be paid by the District of Columbia in lawsuits alleging unlawful detention and unconstitutional strip searches. A previous $12 million settlement, approved in 2006, covered strip searches and overdetentions at the jail between 2002 and 2005. [See: PLN, Oct. 2006, p.29].


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Related legal case

Barnes v. Government of the District of Columbia