On April 26, 2002, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Hancock County, the Hancock County Sheriff, and the Hancock County Jail Administrator, in the United States District Court for the District of Maine. Plaintiff, represented by private counsel, asked for compensatory and punitive damages, alleging he was strip-searched in violation of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments.
On May 27, 2001, plaintiff alleged that he was arrested and taken to the Hancock County Jail where he was told to strip and shower while being watched by officers, and was then subjected to a visual body cavity search, which an officer told him was “routine procedure.” Plaintiff alleged that because this search occurred after he requested an attorney, it violated his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights to counsel. On July 20, 2001, plaintiff was again arrested and taken to the Hancock County Jail, where he was subjected to a clothing search and a shower while being watched, but not a body cavity search. On July 11, 2001, plaintiff had two contact visits with his attorney. After the second visit, plaintiff was subjected to a visual body cavity strip-search.
On January 7, 2003, the Court (United States Magistrate Judge Margaret J. Kravchuck) recommended denying defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings or summary judgment.
On February 12, 2003, the District Court (Judge George Z. Singal), adopted the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation and: (1) held that complaint stated a claim, precluding judgment on the pleadings, and (2) denied summary judgment for defendants because there were genuine issues of fact as to whether the jail policy of strip-searching misdemeanor arrestees after contact visits was reasonable and whether the jail had a custom of strip-searching arrestees upon admission. The Court found no evidence that any jail employee suspected that plaintiff concealed contraband. The Court found that strip-searching arrestees after contact visits could be unreasonable because Defendants did not provide evidence of the dangerousness of the inmate population or history of contraband problems and plaintiff was not given the choice of having a non-contact visit. The Court held that post-arrest searches require reasonable suspicion that an arrestee concealed contraband. While defendants argued that these searches were rogue events which defendants were not responsible for, the Court found sufficient evidence to infer that there was a practice of strip-searching arrestees.
Wood v. Hancock County, 245 F.Supp.2d 231 (D.Me. 2003).
After a jury trial, on March 20, 2003, the jury found for defendants. The jury found that the May 27, 2001 or July 10, 2001 searches were not conducted as a result of Hancock County practice. Furthermore, the jury found that plaintiff was not unreasonably strip-searched on July 11, 2001. Plaintiff appealed.
On December 31, 2003, the First Circuit Court of Appeals (Judges Frank M. Coffin, Bruce M. Selya, and Norman H. Stahl) affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for a partial new trial. The Court affirmed the verdict as to plaintiff’s post-contact strip-search on July 11, because a blanket strip-search policy was justified after contact visits. The Court ordered a new trial on claims relating to plaintiff’s post-arrest searches on May 27th and July 10th, because the jury instructions defined strip-searches too narrowly, as only searches where the officer inspects an arrestee’s mouth and underarms.
Wood v. Hancock County Sheriff’s Dept., 354 F.3d 57 (1st Cir. 2003).
On May 5, 2004, the parties settled.
On June 11, 2004, the parties stipulated to dismissal without costs or interest to any party.
Docket: CV-02-69Shira Gordon - 03/31/2012