OLYMPIA, Wash. — Three women who were arrested during anti-Iraq War protests at the Port of Olympia in November 2007 have sued the city of Olympia, alleging they were told to disrobe to their underwear during searches at the city jail, exposing their breasts to men.
The federal civil-rights lawsuit alleges that on Nov. 13, 2007, police and corrections officers at the jail ordered several women to take off dresses and shirts, in direct violation of jail policy, and made them strip down to an underwear layer that completely exposed and revealed their breasts. The suit alleges that the women were exposed and vulnerable to male prisoners and jail and police personnel alike.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. Washington state law holds that no one may be strip-searched without a warrant unless there is a reasonable suspicion to believe that a strip search is necessary to discover weapons, criminal evidence, contraband, or other thing concealed on the body of the person to be searched.
State law also holds that a strip search or body cavity search shall be performed or observed only by persons of the same sex as the person being searched, except for licensed medical professionals Also, no one is allowed to observe a strip search unless it is necessary to ensure safety, or if the offender asks for a person to be there, provided that the observer is not also in custody, according to state law.
The lawsuit, filed by attorney Larry Hildes, states that officers violated jail policy. Jail Directive 3.3 IX, was not to force women to take off dresses and clothing, and not to force them to strip to a layer where they are exposing their breasts or genitals, according to the suit.
There is no justification for doing this, Hildes said Tuesday. Ive got an awful lot of witnesses who say that it did happen.
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