SEATTLE – A jury heard opening arguments Monday in a federal lawsuit alleging that the City of Olympia violated three women’s civil rights when they were allegedly ordered to disrobe to their underclothing at the city jail after their arrests during an anti-Iraq War protest at the Port of Olympia in 2007.
The other defendants are Olympia police officer Amy King and Olympia corrections officers Gabriel Crumpton and Jeff Robertson.
Plaintiffs Cristen Love, Patricia Imani and Stephanie Snyder were arrested Nov. 13, 2007, for participating in what is known among port protesters as the “womens action” at the Port of Olympia.
The plaintiffs and other protesters were arrested after they tried to prevent shipments of Stryker vehicles and other military cargo that had recently arrived from Iraq from leaving the port in a convoy to then-Fort Lewis.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Larry Hildes told the jury that the three women were humiliated and terrified at being made to strip in front of male and female corrections officers.
Hildes said that the treatment the women received was the functional equivalent of a strip search. He added that there was no practical law enforcement reason for this because they were arrested for nonviolent offenses and there was no risk of them bringing weapons or other dangerous contraband into the jail.
“These are folks who are brought in for an offense that is inarguably nonviolent, not accused of having any drugs or other contraband and made to be the victims of what amounts to a peep show,” Hildes said.
Attorney Donald Law, representing the City of Olympia and the three employees, noted that a female police officer, King, performed all of the “pat-down” searches of the approximately 35 women arrested that night.
“The only involvement that males had was periodic contact with them in terms of moving them down the hall or whatever or when they went back into the sally port” (the jail’s secure entryway), Law said.
Law also told the jury that the period of time the women were in their undergarments was “seconds,” not “hours” as Hildes would have them believe. He added that during that time the women could “cover themselves up, and in fact, that’s what they did.”
In early April, the city paid $260,000 to Cynthia Brown, who was illegally strip-searched and shot with a Taser in the city jail in 2008. Brown was in the jail with two corrections officers when she was ordered to strip to her underwear. After she refused and asked for a female officer’s presence, she was shot with a Taser. She then removed her clothing.
An internal investigation by the Olympia Police Department agreed that Brown’s civil rights were violated and that state law does not permit strip searches by the opposite sex. But the investigation added that the corrections officers were following “expected procedures” at the time.
As a result of the incident, the city changed jail-booking procedures, no longer allowing opposite-sex strip searches. The revised policy also says corrections officers “must have reasonable suspicion to believe a strip search is necessary to discover weapons, criminal evidence, contraband or other items.”
If the jury finds that the city and its employees violated the women’s rights, it could award damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Trial testimony will continue this morning at the federal courthouse in Seattle before U.S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez.
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465