Constitutional Law

Cross-Gender Inmate Strip Search Was Unconstitutional, 9th Circuit Rules

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Cross-gender strip searches of inmates are unconstitutional, a federal appeals court has held.

The en banc ruling Wednesday by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals resurrects a civil rights lawsuit against the Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff’s Department and several jail officials on behalf of a male inmate who was strip-searched by a female cadet in 2004, CNN reported.

Charles Byrd, the inmate in question, alleges that the search—during which he was wearing only state-issued pink boxer shorts—violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and his 14th Amendment rights to equal protection and substantive due process.

Byrd, a pretrial detainee at the time, was one of about 90 inmates in his housing unit who were strip-searched in a general search of the jail for possible weapons and contraband. A handful of inmates, including Byrd, were taken into a separate room, where cadets in the detention officer training academy searched the inmates while training supervisors watched.

Byrd was searched by a female cadet whom he alleges intentionally “squeezed” and “kneaded” his genitals and buttocks.

A federal court judge in Arizona had initially dismissed most of his claims. A jury sided with the cadet on the remaining claims. An appeals court panel affirmed the trial court’s decision in 2009.

But the full court, which agreed to rehear his claims, said the strip search was unreasonable under the facts of the case.

“The indignity of the nonemergency strip search conducted by an unidentified female cadet was compounded by the fact that there were onlookers, at least one of whom videotaped the humiliating event,” Judge Johnnie B. Rawlinson wrote for the court.

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