(SIOUX CITY, IA) - Woodbury County agreed to dish out big bucks to three women who were strip searched in front of male jailers. The money will come out of taxpayers' pockets. It's the culmination of three different lawsuits filed five years ago.
The county agreed to pay the three women a total of $385,000. The jail's policy on strip searches changed in 2008 after these lawsuits came about, but two more women filed similar lawsuits in 2011.
Woodbury County's Sheriff said the jail's getting upgrades to prevent incidents like these. Sheriff Dave Drew just took his position a few months ago and he's already working on plans to fix up the jail. "We have a camera here and this is part of our camera system that we've had in place, but we obviously want to have more cameras," said Sheriff Drew showing cameras inside and outside the garage booking area. The renovations stem from three lawsuits women filed against the jail after they were wrongfully strip searched in front of male jailers. "Woodbury County was strip searching everyone that came into the jail if they were charged with a serious misdemeanor or above and that was clearly in violation of the Constitution at the time they were doing that back in 2007-2008," said Dave O'Brien, a lawyer from Cedar Rapids, IA. In 2008, the county changed its policy no longer requiring every inmate to be strip searched. "A reasonable suspicion, which an officer may have reasonable suspicion that there may be contraband or something that would require a strip search," said Sheriff Drew. Three lawsuits filed before the policy change have now been settled as the county decided to pay the total sum of $385,000. "I think the dollar amounts speak for themselves. The county is not paying the kind of money they're paying in these cases because they didn't do anything wrong," said O'Brien. "Hopefully by changing the policy in 2008, we corrected things that might have appeared to be not right. By settling doesn't say that we were wrong, but it certainly takes those items off the table, we hope," said Woodbury County Supervisor Mark Monson. So what's next with more lawsuits pending? Sheriff Drew said new policies plus new equipment should make a difference. "Training is important. We need to make sure the correctional staff and the deputies, we're all following along in the same policy and directives because those are important," said Sheriff Drew. "As long as some of the personnel remain the same, they're going to have to do some significant re-training. I think they're going to have to do some significant amount of additional oversight for certain jail personnel," said O'Brien.
O'Brien also had advice for the jail's employees.
"People are sent to the jail as punishment not to be punished. Part of your job is not to inflict punishment on people that are there. Your job is simply to detain them. And in our society, detaining people away from their families and friends is punishment," said O'Brien.
Monson said the county will start renovating the jail hopefully in the next couple of months. The lawyer did specifically say most of the jailers do their job well. He said it's a small minority that have violated people's rights.