SEATTLE - The question of whether three women arrested during an Iraq War protest in 2007 were subjected to a strip search that exposed their breasts was put to a jury Thursday during closing arguments in a federal civil rights trial.
Larry Hildes, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said the womens’ breasts were exposed during a strip search and they are entitled to financial damages.
“They want this to stop,” Hildes said during closing arguments. “They want this never to happen again to another woman.”
But Donald Law, who represents the city of Olympia, told the jury that the breasts of two of the plaintiffs were never exposed at the jail. He argued that when the women were told to strip down to a single layer, their garments provided coverage because they were not transparent. Law referred to those garments “cotton tank tops.” Hildes called them worn and semi-transparent camisoles.
Law conceded that there might have been “some kind of subjective exposure” of a third plaintiff’s breasts for a minimal amount of time due to the sheer fabric of her single-layer garment. But Law said that plaintiff had the opportunity to cover up with her arms.
The jury will begin its deliberations this morning in the federal lawsuit brought against the city of Olympia by plaintiffs Cristen Love, Patricia Imani and Stephanie Snyder.
Olympia police officer Amy King, who conducted the “pat-down” searches of the plaintiffs after they were taken to the city jail, and Olympia corrections officer Gabriel Crumpton also are named as defendants in the suit.
Strip searches after an arrest for a minor offense are generally unreasonable unless an officer believes the person under arrest is concealing contraband, according to instructions read to the jury.
A strip search occurs when an “arrestee is subjected to a visible inspection of her naked body, or an arrestee is required to expose her undergarments in public, in a manner which it can be said to result in embarrassment, fear, or humiliation to one of reasonable sensibilities,” according to the jury instructions.
The plaintiffs and about 32 other protesters were arrested at the Port of Olympia and brought to the Olympia City Jail on Nov. 13, 2007. They were part of what is known among protesters as the “women’s action” 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.
Hides said the women’s exposure, which occurred after they were arrested on suspicion of obstruction of a police officer, a misdemeanor charge, amounted to “a peep show.”
“Nobody deserves to be publicly humiliated,” Hildes said. “No one should have to be paraded around with their breasts exposed at the whims of officers.”
Hildes told the jury that when Love tried to point out to King that her breasts were visible as she stripped to a single layer, King responded, “I see and I don’t care, take it off.”
“‘I see and I don’t care’ is not acceptable in this society,” Hildes said.
The eight-person federal jury in U.S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez’s courtroom is comprised of four men and four women.
The jury must be unanimous in order to reach a verdict. It must rule whether the defendants violated the women’s right to be free from an unreasonable search by a “preponderance of the evidence” standard.
Hildes is asking for $150,000 for each his three clients, plus punitive damages.
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465 firstname.lastname@example.org