OLYMPIA - City Manager Steve Hall and Police Chief Ronnie Roberts addressed the matter of Cynthia Brown, who sued the city in September after being illegally strip-searched and shot with a Taser in the city jail in 2008, during Tuesday's Olympia City Council meeting.
“The first and most important thing to say is that that was wrong,” Hall said, “that the city made mistakes, that that should not have happened, and that when we became aware of the incident four months later, December 2008, we conducted an investigation.
“At the completion of that, we made changes in our policies, we made changes in our practices and our training. And we have apologized to Ms. Brown.”
Hall said his comments, which in an unusual move came before the council’s regular public communication period, were meant to address concerns that three women brought at the March 8 meeting about strip-searches of females in the city jail. As a result, the city released 104 pages of documents, including the internal police investigation.
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“A couple weeks ago, we didn’t know quite how to respond,” Hall said. “This is a matter of active litigation with the city and so we all felt restricted in what we could say.”
Roberts, who started his job as police chief in January, was not in charge during the incident. But he said he has started “an exhaustive review of all the policies and procedures that impact the jail.”
He said he has instructed the jail manager to review all policies, “especially as they relate to use of force and how we treat prisoners as we bring them into the facility.”
He said police have made changes to how searches are done – that they’re not done by members of the opposite sex.
Brown sued the city and three male corrections officers – James Roberson Sr., James Roberson Jr. and Michael Renard, a cadet – over the 2008 incident.
According to public documents:
Brown was taken to the city jail Aug. 19, 2008, after she was arrested on a misdemeanor trespassing charge, which later was dismissed. While Brown was in the jail with the two other male corrections officers, Roberson Sr. ordered her to strip to her underwear.
Brown refused, asking for a female officer to be present. Roberson Sr. told her a female officer wasn’t available and that she was to strip.
Brown continued to refuse, and Roberson Sr. shot her with a Taser. Brown then removed her clothes.
Brown’s suit claims her civil rights were violated and that the strip search was illegal. It asks for compensatory damages to be determined at trial, which is set for Oct. 31.
The city’s answer to the lawsuit generally does not contradict Brown’s version of events. But it says it is entitled to “qualified immunity.”
Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 firstname.lastname@example.org