On February 10, 1988, two individuals filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the County of Los Angeles in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, Western Division. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, asked the court for injunctive and monetary relief, claiming that their Fourth Amendment rights had been violated. Specifically, they claimed that L.A. County’s policy of strip searching them violated their constitutional rights.
On February 21, 1987, plaintiffs, a mother and daughter, were jewelry shopping. During lunch, across the street from one of the jewelers they had visited, the plaintiffs were accosted by the owner of the jewelry store, who accused the mother of stealing one of the rings she had handled in the store. The mother claimed she had been attacked by the jeweler, and escaped into a bathroom after the jeweler stole her purse.
The mother and daughter were both arrested by the LAPD, and transported to central station. The LAPD had a policy of strip and cavity searching all felony arrestees, regardless of charge. The plaintiffs were both subjected to a visual vaginal and anal inspection. The mother was transported to a hospital to have an x-ray, presumably to see if she had swallowed the missing ring.
Plaintiffs were then transported to the Sybil Brand Institute women’s jail, where they were subjected to a second strip search. After being incarcerated for twelve hours, and after the searches revealed no drugs, merchandise, or any evidence of any crime, the plaintiffs were released on bail. Plaintiffs were never charged.
On March 8, 1989, the District Court (Judge A. Wallace Tashima) granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, finding that the police officers had reasonable cause to arrest the plaintiffs and that, reasonable cause notwithstanding, the officers were entitled to qualified immunity. Plaintiffs appealed.
On October 1, 1990, in a published opinion written by Judge Harry Pregerson, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Judges Pregerson, Cynthia Hall, and Stephen Reinhardt) found that the plaintiffs’ unlawful arrest claim was properly dismissed at summary judgment, as the defendant officers were entitled to qualified immunity on that issue. However, the Court found that the blanket policy of searching all arrestees arrested for felonies did not comport with Bell v. Wolfish and did not qualify as a search incident to arrest under Chimel v. California. However, the Court found that because the “contours” of the Bell v. Wolfish right were not apparent to a reasonable officer at the time of the search, , the officers were entitled to qualified immunity. The case was remanded to allow the charge against the City of Los Angeles to continue, but affirming the dismissals against the officers.
We have no information about the result on remand.
The case closed on October 8, 1992.Blase Kearney - 05/07/2012