ACLU Announces Settlement of Strip-search Lawsuit
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 1, 2000
The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado (ACLU) announced today a settlement agreement that resolves a civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of Job Corps participants who alleged that they were subjected to a group strip search at the federal agency's facility in Collbran, Colorado, a residential educational and vocational training program for disadvantaged youth.
Under the agreement, the United States Department of Labor will ban such group strip searches — and all other searches of the person that are not based on individualized suspicion — at Job Corps centers throughout the country. In addition, the government will pay monetary compensation to the two individual plaintiffs.
The lawsuit alleged that 25 to 30 young persons were forced to submit to the strip search in March, 1997, when they returned to the Job Corps center after spending a weekend outside of the live-in facility. It asserted that Job Corps officials acted on nothing more than a "rumor" that one of the program participants might be bringing drugs into the facility. No drugs were ever found.
The new policy prohibits any searches of an entire group when the information in the possession of Job Corps officials implicates only some members of the group.
"The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches," said Greg Whitehair, of Kutak Rock, who led the legal team for the ACLU. "It is unreasonable to search an entire group of young people simply because government officials suspect that one of them might possess marijuana. It is especially unreasonable to subject them to the humiliation of a strip search."
The ACLU initially filed the lawsuit on behalf of Alisha McKay, who was seventeen years old and five months pregnant when the search occurred. She had no criminal record and no history of involvement with illegal drugs. Another plaintiff, Carlos Trujillo, later joined the lawsuit.
When the bus arrived at the Job Corps Center, the suit alleged, Job Corps officials divided the males and females into separate groups and strip-searched them two at a time. Ms. McKay and another young woman were ordered to stand side-by-side in a bathroom, remove their clothes, spread their legs apart, and squat as a Job Corps official inspected their genitals. Ms. McKay allegedly was told that if she did not submit to the body cavity inspection, she would be terminated from the Job Corps program "on the spot."
The lawsuit alleged that Mr. Trujillo was ordered into a bathroom and forced to drop his pants, bend over, and spread his buttocks for a visual inspection. "No young people should ever have to go through what our clients endured," said Susan Brienza of Patton Boggs, who also served as an ACLU cooperating attorney on the case. "This agreement will protect Job Corps participants in every Job Corps facility in the country."
"Vague information suggesting that some unspecified individual in a group might have drugs does not authorize the government to conduct a blanket search of an entire busload of passengers," said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director. "And it certainly cannot justify subjecting two dozen teenagers to the senseless degrading ordeal of a strip search. We are pleased that the federal government has agreed to adopt a policy that specifically addresses and prohibits such searches."
Silverstein explained that the ACLU became involved a few days after the search took place, when the organization received a handwritten letter from Alisha and her mother, LaNita McKay. "They said that they believed the strip search was wrong," Silverstein said, "and they hoped they could do something to make sure that this would never happen again to another Job Corps participant. With this agreement, they have made that hope a reality."