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Los Angeles County to Pay $53 Million for Strip Searches of Female Prisoners

by Chad Marks

In 2010, a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of female prisoners at the Century Regional Detention Facility (CRDF) in Los Angeles who were forced to undergo humiliating strip and visual body cavity searches.

The searches were conducted outdoors in a bus garage area, where the women were forced to disrobe in front of 40 other women; sometimes they were so close to each other that their bodies touched. Many were forced to stand in oil from buses that regularly idled in the garage. There was blood mixed in with the oil, left by previous female prisoners who were menstruating during the invasive searches.

Guards would curse at the naked prisoners while ridiculing them and making jokes and other degrading comments. Prisoners who were menstruating were ordered to remove their pads and tampons; without being allowed to first wash their hands, guards would order the prisoners to use their fingers to open their mouths so they could be inspected.

Many of the women were exposed to cold outdoor temperatures, and sometimes the searches took place while it was raining. At times, men could observe the group searches. The lawsuit was certified as a class action in November 2016.

County taxpayers will now pay a hefty price for the degrading strip searches. As part of a proposed settlement, Los Angeles County agreed to pay $53 million for strip searches that took place from March 2008 to January 2015. The district court is holding a hearing on the settlement in early December 2019; it had previously rejected a provision that required $3 million of the settlement funds to be used to develop gender-responsive policies and programs at CRDF. If the court approves the settlement agreement, notices will be sent to the class members in January 2020.

The nine named plaintiffs in the case will each receive $10,000 incentive awards, while other prisoners will receive payments based on the number of searches they experienced, the type of searches and whether the searches were conducted in cold weather.

However, no amount of money can justify the degrading strip and body cavity searches, which bordered on sexual assault. Currently, searches of detainees in the Los Angeles County jail system are supposed to be conducted using full body scanners.

The class members are represented by Barrett S. Litt and Lindsay Battles with Kaye McClane Bednarski & Litt, and by attorneys Donald Cook, Colleen Flynn and Cynthia Anderson-Barker. See: Amador v. Baca, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:10-cv-01649-SVW-JEM. 


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Related legal case

Amador v. Baca