Lawsuit: Ex-inmates allege illegal strip searches at St. Clair County Jail

News-DemocratMarch 10, 2014 

Two former inmates who allege they were humiliated during strip searches at the St. Clair County Jail have filed a federal lawsuit seeking more than $350,000.

Teresa Hale and Leticia Jackson, both of Belleville, filed the lawsuit on Feb. 21 against St. Clair County and jail officials. The two women are represented by Jarrod Beasley of The Kuehn Law Firm in Belleville. Beasley could not be reached for comment.

They allege corrections officers violated state law and their Constitutional rights by humiliating them during strip searches. The women were serving weekend sentences in 2012 for misdemeanor convictions of driving under the influence.

St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson could not immediately be reached for comment Monday. Watson previously said the allegations had no merit and jail officials follow state standards regarding strip searches.

The lawsuit alleges humiliation and abuse of the inmates by two jail guards, including sexual misconduct, as they conducted the searches of the inmates.

Watson previously said searches are conducted with respect and are necessary to ensure the safety of inmates.

State standards and court rulings restrict some strip searches to preserve the privacy and dignity of the inmate.

For example, the Illinois Department of Corrections has set standards for counties requiring searches "be performed in an area that ensures privacy and dignity of the individual."

Searches should also not expose inmates "to the view of others who are not specifically involved in the process."

In St. Clair County, inmates are searched in a group when a large number of inmates are received at the same time. Other strip searches are performed individually. In neighboring Madison County, strip searches are conducted individually.

The women allege the guards humiliated them beyond the strip searches, according to court documents.

The lawsuit alleges that when the inmates were cleaning the toilets of a restroom designated for jail guards, one of the guards allegedly called Jackson a "preacher girl" and asked her "Where is your God now?"

Jackson's father volunteered as a minister for inmates.

Other inmates have sought legal action against the county regarding strip searches.

In December, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit from Timothy Headrick who alleged strip searches at the St. Clair County Jail violated his constitutional rights.

A separate lawsuit from 22 inmates with similar allegations against St. Clair County is ongoing. The lawsuit initially had 29 inmates named as plaintiffs. Seven have withdrawn from the case.

In 2011, a class action lawsuit against the Cook County Jail resulted in a $55 million settlement for inmates strip searched prior to being convicted of a crime. Some of those inmates were being held for misdemeanor charges.

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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