On May 16, 2006 a juvenile detainee filed a class action civil rights suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, challenging the strip search policy of the Dona Ana County Juvenile Detention Center. Plaintiff alleged that the County and officials in charge of Juvenile Detention Center had a blanket policy of strip searching all pre-arraignment detainees upon their arrival at the Juvenile Detention Center, regardless of the offense charged, or whether there was any suspicion that the detainee possessed weapons or contraband. The plaintiff, who was strip searched pursuant to this policy, alleged that that the policy violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Plaintiff sought compensatory and punitive damages, declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as class certification. The County and Detention Center officials generally denied the allegations.
Shortly after the suit was filed, the District Court (Judge Judith C. Herrera) stayed the proceedings at the request of the parties so that they could pursue settlement negotiations. Plaintiff's attorney had filed a similar class action on behalf of adult detainees that were strip searched at the Dona Ana County. See JC-NM-0004: Lira v. Dona Ana County. Negotiations were conducted on both the adult and juvenile cases. On November 21, 2007, Judge William Johnson consolidated both cases, designating Lira as the lead case.
Shortly after the consolidation, the parties filed an Amended Stipulation of Settlement, under which the Defendants agreed to pay $5.3 million to resolve all class claims. The stipulated Adult Settlement Class included all detainees who were strip searched between March 7, 2003 and March 7, 2006 at the Dona Ana County Jail prior to arraignment. The stipulated Juvenile Settlement class included all detainees who were strip searched between May 16, 2003 and May 16, 2006 at the Dona Ana Juvenile Detention Center. It was estimated that there were approximately 11,000 class members. Individual claims were to be paid per an agreed upon distribution formula, with the range of expected pay-outs per individual claimant was estimated at $1,200 to $2,400. Representative plaintiffs would receive a total $200,000 or $25,000 per class representative. $1,666,667 of the settlement fund was allocated for attorneys' fees.
Judge Johnson preliminarily approved the settlement on December 20, 2007.
On May 20, 2008, the district court (Judge Johnson) issued a final approval of the settlement and a final judgment of dismissal in the case. In 2011, the parties filed a Joint Motion to allow disbursement of remaining funds to two non-profit entities. Although most of the funds had been successfully distributed, about $22,000 remained for claimants the administrator could not reach. The court granted the motion. Elizabeth Daligga - 07/27/2012