Camden County has been hit with a class action over its policy of performing strip searches on persons held on minor offenses at the county detention center.
The suit seeks to recover damages on behalf of named plaintiff Isrel Dillard and a proposed class of detainees who were strip-searched at the Camden County Correctional Facility after being arrested on nonindictable offenses. The suit also seeks to recover on behalf of a subclass of individuals who were not only strip-searched after being arrested on minor offenses, but were strip-searched prior to an appearance before a judge with authority to release the detainee, or without being given an opportunity to post bail.
Blanket strip searches of detainees who have not been arraigned or given an opportunity to post bail are violations of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution, the suit said.
It’s unclear how the plaintiff will navigate the decision issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 concerning jail strip search policies in two other New Jersey counties, Burlington and Essex. In Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington, the justices ruled that strip searches of adult pretrial detainees, regardless of the severity of the alleged offense or the absence of suspicions, are permitted, even if there is no reason to suspect the individual is carrying contraband.
The Supreme Court ruling was followed by a class action suit on behalf of persons who were subject to a strip search at the Burlington County Jail after being charged with nonindictable offenses. U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman granted preliminary approval on April 20 to a settlement that would pay as much as $400 to each class member in that case, Haas v. Burlington County. That settlement is subject to a fairness hearing set for Jan. 16, 2019.
In the present case, plaintiff Dillard was arrested on a warrant for nonpayment of child support. On his arrival at the jail, and before he went before a judge, he was subject to a strip and visual cavity search. He was released from the jail two days later, without seeing a judge, after a determination that his warrant was issued in error, according to the complaint.
Dillard’s strip search was conducted without an inquiry into or establishment of reasonable suspicion as to whether he harbored contraband, and was not supported by reasonable suspicion, the suit said. The Camden facility routinely conducts such searches on individuals charged with driving while intoxicated, driving with a suspended license, harassment, nonpayment of child support, and trespassing, the suit said.
As a result of the blanket strip searches, Dillard and other class members suffer psychological pain, humiliation, and mental anguish, according to the complaint.
Dillard is represented by Albany, New York-based attorney Elmer Keach III. Keach’s office said he was not available on Thursday.
A spokesman for Camden County, Dan Keashen, said in a statement, “This complaint is outrageous and completely baseless, the Freeholder Board has made significant investments in technology and adapted procedures more than 10-years-ago to ensure we are following the state guidelines on searches at the jail. Furthermore, the individual filing the complaint, was not strip searched in our facility making this frivolous lawsuit all the more offensive.”
Dillard filed a separate suit, with representation by Keach, against two state troopers who allegedly violated his civil rights during an arrest in Camden in May 2015. Dillard claimed in that suit that troopers Michael Liccketto and Eric Ayala approached him as he was walking to a store, then attempted to force him to enter an abandoned building. As a crowd of onlookers gathered, the officers stopped pushing him into the building, told him they were responding to a report of a person matching his description who had a gun, then freed him, the suit claimed.
In the Liccketto and Ayala case, Deputy Attorney General Kai Marshall-Otto said in a March 7 letter to U.S. Magistrate Judge Ann Marie Donio, “the parties have reached an amicable resolution of this matter. Barring any complications, I expect to file a stipulation of dismissal in approximately 90 days.”
A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, Lee Moore, would not disclose settlement terms on Thursday, saying there is “no finalized settlement agreement yet” in that case.