Lawsuits filed against Portsmouth sheriff for cavity searches of contract workers

Attorneys for the ACLU of Virginia on Friday filed nine separate lawsuits seeking damages for nine female contract workers who were forced to strip naked and subjected to visual body cavity searches by officials at the Portsmouth City Jail. Each plaintiff is seeking monetary damages and a court order preventing the searches from ever occurring again.

According to legal papers filed Friday in the federal court in Norfolk, Portsmouth Sheriff Bill Watson ordered the searches in late April 2011 as part of an ongoing investigation of drugs being brought into the jail. At the time, each of the workers was an employee of Correct Care Solutions or Aramark Correctional Facility Food Service, private companies that supply health and food services to the jail.

“It is important that shocking invasions of privacy like these do not go unchecked,” said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg.  “This sort of bodily intrusion is precisely what the Constitution is meant to prevent.”

Before being allowed into the jail on the day of the searches, each woman was required to remove her outer and under garments and be subjected to a visual search of her cavities. All were told that if they did not consent to the search they would be forced to leave the premises and their clearance to access the jail would be revoked.

“These are the most demeaning kinds of searches to which human beings can be subjected,” said David Morgan, with Cravens and Noll, P.C. in Richmond and a cooperating attorney for the ACLU of Virginia, “and there was absolutely no legal justification whatsoever for them — no individualized suspicion that any of these women were bringing drugs into the jail.”

“When government officials invade our personal privacy in such an egregious and unconscionable manner, they must pay a price, and they must be prevented from doing it again,” added Morgan.

In addition to Morgan and Glenberg, lawyers for the plaintiffs are ACLU cooperating attorney Daniel Trimmer, also with Cravens & Noll, P.C., and ACLU of Virginia Dunn Fellow Thomas Okuda Fitzpatrick.



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