On September 15, 2011, former prisoners at the Western Massachusetts Regional Women's Correctional Center ("WCC") filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Hampden County Sheriff's Department. The plaintiffs, ...
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On September 15, 2011, former prisoners at the Western Massachusetts Regional Women's Correctional Center ("WCC") filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Hampden County Sheriff's Department. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel, sought money damages, alleging that the Sheriff's Department violated their Fourth Amendment rights by allowing male officers to be present for and videotape non-emergency strip searches.
Following discovery and arguments on the specifics of the Sheriff Department's policies with regards to non-emergency strip searches, on May 23, 2013 the District Court (Judge Michael A. Ponsor) granted plaintiffs' motion for class certification. The class consists of 178 current and former WCC inmates who were videotaped by male correctional officers during strip searches.
On August 26, 2014, the District Court (Judge Michael A. Ponsor) granted plaintiffs summary judgment, finding that the mere presence of male corrections officer during non-emergency strip searches violated plaintiffs Fourth Amendment rights. Further proceedings were deemed necessary to determine the issue of liability and potential monetary and equitable relief.
While that ruling was pending on appeal before the First Circuit, the parties reached a settlement in March 2015: the state (not the county) agreed to pay $675,000. $475,000 was allocated to the plaintiffs' attorneys for fees and $22,000 for costs; $20,000 to the lead plaintiff; $2,000 each to four plaintiffs who were deposed, and the remaining class members were set to receive at least $850, and more depending on the claiming rate. In addition, Defendants agreed to change their policy to prohibit male officers from holding the video camera during strip searches except in exigent circumstances, as defined in the Prison Rape Elimination Act regulation, which defined "exigent circumstances" to be "any set of temporary and unforeseen circumstances that require immediate action in order to combat a threat to the security or institutional order of a facility." PREA Standards § 115.5. The defendants were to provide plaintiffs with statistics, a copy of the video of the full move and strip search and any reports or materials documenting the need for the male videotaping up until June 30, 2016.
A preliminary fairness hearing was held on April 9, 2015, and Judge Ponsor agreed to proceed to a final fairness hearing. On September 10, 2015 the court found settlement fair and reasonable, and approved it; they also granted $475,000 in attorneys' fees and $22,000 in costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988.Brendan Brown - 09/18/2014
Abigail DeHart - 10/21/2016