“It's a Beautiful Thing:” City to Fork Over $33M in Jail Strip Search Lawsuit

New York City jails have settled a class-action lawsuit with the city for $33 million after approximately 100,000 people with misdemeanors were illegally strip-searched between 1999 and 2007.

Two of the plaintiffs were women who said they were forced to receive gynecological exams.

The suit was filed on behalf of people arrested on misdemeanor drug and weapons charges and strip-searched at Rikers Island and other jails. Other charges included jumping turnstiles, failing to pay child support, shoplifting and trespassing.

"We hope in some small way these damage awards will stand for some semblance of justice for these victims," said Richard D. Emery, lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

Under the agreement, victims can receive between $1,800 and $2,900 each, depending on how many people respond. The plaintiffs who claimed they were forced into gynecological exams are entitled to $20,000 each for their injury and suffering, according to the decision, reached last week and finalized Monday.

The case included people arrested, but not convicted, between July 15, 1999, and Oct. 4, 2007. The court has already ruled that the practice violated the prisoners' constitutional rights.

David Sanchez, 39, of the Bronx, said he was strip-searched twice at Riker's Island after he was arrested in November 2006 for misdemeanor drug possession.

"It was horrifying," Sanchez recalled at a news conference in Manhattan. "I was humiliated."

Sanchez said he was pleased with the outcome of the case.

"It's a beautiful thing," he said. "It's not about the money. It's about people being respected."

Mariann Meier Wang, another lawyer for the plaintiffs, said she expected about 15 percent of those illegally searched to file a claim to receive money.

Wang called the settlement historic and the illegal strip searches a "form of mass humiliation." She said they were designed to let inmates know who was in charge.

The majority of the illegal searches took place at Riker's Island and the Manhattan Detention Complex.

Genevieve Nelson, a lawyer in the New York City Law Department, said the settlement is the final step for changes in procedure that began in 2007.

"The City of New York and its Department of Correction have worked diligently to ensure that both safety and privacy are given high consideration during intake search procedures," she said in a statement.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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