The case arose from the August 15, 2000 misdemeanor arrests of 71 bicyclists engaged in a protest at the 2000 Democratic National Convention. The cyclists were charged with reckless driving and were turned over to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for processing at the Los Angeles Inmate Reception Center. Prior to their detention, the male arrestees were subjected to pat-down searches and removal of personal property, while the females were subjected to pre-arraignment strip searches and visual body cavity examinations by female officers. The female arrestees were also subjected to a second strip search the following day, after a court had already ordered that they be released from custody. Both the men and women claimed that they were held at least twelve hours after all charges against them had been dismissed.
On April 27, 2001, six plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of a class consisting of the 71 bicycle protestors who were subjected to the "mass arrest" of August 15, 2000. The female plaintiffs alleged that they were illegally strip-searched and both the male and female plaintiffs complained that they were improperly arrested, improperly detained after the court ordered their release, and subjected to inadequate conditions of confinement.
At the time of this incident, it was the practice of guards at some LA facilities to conduct strip searches and visual body cavity inspections of all arrestees before introducing them into the general jail population. That policy had been challenged more generally in Williams v. County of Los Angeles (see JC-CA-0033 of this database). The judge in the Musso case tried to transfer it to the Williams court on grounds that it was a related case. However, because Williams had an appeal pending at the time of the attempted transfer, the Williams judge sent the Musso case back. Williams eventually settled in mid-2001 when the LASD acknowledged that the blanket strip search policy was illegal and in violation of California Penal Code Section 4030(f), which provided that misdemeanor and infraction arrestees may not be strip searched prior to arraignment unless (1) they are charged with an offense involving weapons, drugs, or violence or (2) there is reasonable suspicion that they are concealing a weapon or contraband. Williams settled for $27 million dollars (eventually shared among 40,000 claimants), but the Musso plaintiffs were expressly excluded from that settlement.
After two years of litigation, the Musso case was settled for $2.75 million. According to press accounts, each female plaintiff received $70,000 and each male plaintiff received $5000.
For more information on the ongoing reform of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department during this period, see PN-CA-0001 of this collection, which describes those efforts. In particular, the 19th semi-annual report of Special Counsel Merrick Bobb, available there, comments on the Musso case and changes to the LASD's strip search policies.Dan Dalton - 07/03/2007