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New Jersey County Pays $1,975,000 to Settle Suit Over Unlawful Strip Searches

by Douglas Ankney

Ocean County, New Jersey has agreed to pay $1.975 million to settle a class-action lawsuit, where the class was defined as “All persons who were admitted into the Ocean County Correctional Facility during the period between November 28, 2005 through December 28, 2007, after being arrested only on a non-indictable matter, such as a disorderly persons offense or violation, traffic infractions, civil matters or other non-indictable occurrences, and were subject to a strip search upon their entry into the Ocean County Correctional Facility in the absence of reasonable suspicion.”

“Minor offenders entering a county jail should not be strip searched,” said attorney William Riback who, along with Carl Poplar, represented the class members. He said the suit was filed to stop blanket strip searches of people arrested for traffic offenses, petty disorderly offenses, misdemeanors, child support arrears and contempt of court.

The county denied any wrongdoing but agreed to pay up to $1,200,000 to settle what could be as many as 7,530 claims. An incentive award of $10,000 each was awarded from the settlement fund to class representatives Richard Wright and April Wedding. Another named plaintiff, Edward Bizarro, died before the settlement was reached.

Ocean County further paid an additional $150,000 to administer the settlement plus $625,000 in attorneys’ fees. The settlement agreement also provides injunctive relief, requiring the county to end its policy and practice of strip searching, without reasonable suspicion, all non-indictable pretrial detainees. A final hearing on the proposed settlement was held on April 17, 2019.

Each claimant may receive up to $300 in damages regardless of the number of times he or she was strip searched or incarcerated during the settlement period. If more than 4,000 claims are approved, then each award will be reduced on a pro rata basis. See: Bizarro v. Ocean County, Superior Court (NJ), Docket No. OCN-1644-17. 

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Additional sources: Associated Press, nj.com, oceancountystripsearch.com, app.com

Related legal case

Bizarro v. Ocean County