Thousands could receive money in strip-search dealSIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Thousands of people could receive payment for being strip-searched at a juvenile detention center as far back as 12 years ago, according to an attorney representing them in a class-action lawsuit.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Thousands of people could receive payment for being strip-searched at a juvenile detention center as far back as 12 years ago, according to an attorney representing them in a class-action lawsuit.
Lawyers for the potential plaintiffs and Minnehaha County, which operates the Sioux Falls juvenile detention center, have signed a proposed settlement, according to a recent court filing. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed.
If a judge approves the settlement, an estimated 5,000 young people who were taken to the detention center between Nov. 1, 1997, and Dec. 31, 2003 — when the strip-search policy at issue was in place — will be notified, said Chicago lawyer Juliet Berger-White, who represents the potential plaintiffs. Those with a valid claim can accept the deal or sue on their own, she said Monday.
Of the 5,000, only those who certify in a claim form that they were searched while fully nude will qualify to receive part of the settlement, Berger-White said.
The county policy changed Jan. 1, 2004, to require full strip searches for violent offenders or those suspected of having drugs or weapons. It previously allowed them for youth brought in for minor infractions such as liquor violations and truancy.
``These were kids who were skipping school and then being strip-searched,' Berger-White said.
Gary Thimsen, a lawyer for Minnehaha County, said the searches did not include body cavities and were done discretely by an employee of the same gender in a private area of the detention center. The purpose was to check for signs of abuse, drugs and weapons, he said.
``No court has yet determined that these types of searches do violate constitutional rights,' Thimsen said. ``This is a compromise settlement to avoid further expense and litigation. There has never been a determination of wrongdoing by the county or its employees.'
Berger-White said the roughly 5,000 teens taken to the center during the period in question were subjected to an estimated 8,700 searches. Thimsen called that number speculative, saying no records were kept of the type of search done.
If the settlement is approved, plaintiffs will be paid based on how many times they were searched, Berger-White said.
Even though the policy called for the teens to be naked, some were allowed to keep their underwear on, so they would not qualify for compensation, she said.
Among them is the girl who filed the original lawsuit against the center. Jodie Smook of Luverne, Minn., then 16, challenged the policy in court after having to undress to her underwear in 1999 for a curfew violation.
A federal judge sided with Smook, ruling that the search policy for minor offenses was unconstitutional. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision and upheld the policy on grounds that detention center workers are responsible to make sure juveniles are not hiding weapons or drugs.
The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Smook's case, which led to changes in the search policy. Now, they are not done if parents agree to pick up their children within two hours. And lawmakers prohibited strip searches of juveniles held for curfew violations unless there is probable cause.