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. “I’ve got an awful lot of witnesses who say that it did happen.”
The three plaintiffs named in the suit, Cristen Love, Patricia Imani and Stephanie Snyder, all were arrested Nov. 13 for participating in what is known among port protesters as the “women’s action” at the Port of Olympia.
The three allege in the suit that they were victims “of a deliberate policy to expose, humiliate and intimidate” them, “equivalent to a strip search but to a mixed gender group of guards and prisoners.”
Hildes said Tuesday that he thinks the searches were conducted as retaliation against the women for their protest activities, a violation of their First Amendment right to freedom of expression.
The suit also alleges that the women were kept in their state of exposure, in “extremely cold holding areas without access to blankets or any other means of keeping warm.”
The suit also alleges that the women were wrongfully arrested, and the only evidence that they intended to violate the law came “from spying and surveillance that is illegal under the Posse Comitatus Act of 1887 …” In July, members of Olympia Port Militarization Resistance, the group that organized the 2007 port protests, said that a civilian Fort Lewis employee, John Towery, spied on them by infiltrating the organization under an assumed name. A Fort Lewis spokesman has confirmed that Towery is an employee of Fort Lewis Force Protection and said the Army is conducting an inquiry into the spying allegation.
The plaintiffs and 23 other protesters were arrested after they tried to physically prevent shipments of Stryker vehicles and other military cargo shipped from Iraq from leaving the port in a convoy to Fort Lewis.
All three of the plaintiffs later were charged with attempted disorderly conduct and obstructing a law enforcement officer.
Defendants named in the suit include the city of Olympia, Olympia police officer Amy King, Olympia police officer Bob Krasnacion, five correctional officers at the jail and Olympia Police Chief Gary Michel.
Olympia Police Cmdr. Tor Bjornstad referred questions to the attorney representing the city in the suit, Donald Law. Law could not be reached for comment. Olympia City Attorney Tom Morrill declined to comment on the suit, saying he has not seen it.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.
A “reasonable suspicion” allows a strip search without a warrant only when a person has been arrested on suspicion of a violent offense, such as one involving an escape, a burglary, the use of a deadly weapon, or a drug or controlled substance, according to state law.
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465