Thousands of women illegally strip searched at Miami-Dade County correctional facilities may qualify for a piece of the $6.25 million a federal court judge approved in a class-action settlement, the Miami Herald reports. It apparently is one of the largest civil rights settlements in the history of Miami-Dade County. Randall Berg of the Florida Justice Institute, which filed the suit in March 2004, said it brought to light how women arrested on misdemeanor charges were routinely stripped and exposed to humiliating searches even if they were pregnant or menstruating. “It’s against the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and against state law in Florida,” said Berg. “This is you, your mother, your sister picked up for a misdemeanor.”
Among those who may be entitled to collect are women who were brought in for loitering, charges related to prostitution, or driving without a license. The lawsuit stemmed from a complaint filed by three female protesters who were arrested during the 2003 Free Trade Area of the Americas Conference. One California woman said she was told to squat and “hop like a bunny” — a method of dislodging contraband — which was difficult because she has bad knees. A guard told her to remove her naval piercing and when she couldn’t, the guard came back with large clippers and cut it off. Similar class-action lawsuits have been filed in Michigan, parts of California and, most recently, in New Mexico. A memo dated Feb. 8 from the Miami-Dade Corrections Department, says: There will no longer be a blanket practice of strip searching for people charged with prostitution, traffic, regulatory, or misdemeanor violations.