Court Takes Class Action Off Table for Ex-Detainees

     (CN) - Former detainees of Cook County Jail lost their ability to proceed with a class action challenging the jail's process of releasing them. The 7th Circuit found the claims too individual to litigate collectively.
     Lead plaintiff Robert Harper was held in Cook County Jail after being arrested in September 2005. As he was being processed through the system, his wife posted a $15,000 cash bond. He claimed that he and other detainees should have been released immediately following their bond payments.
     The district court granted his motion to certify a class action against Cook County's sheriff, but ordered him to submit a new class definition within two weeks, because the first was too broad. Harper had defined the class as "[a]ll persons processed into the Cook County Jail on and after May 2, 2005 while that person, or someone acting on his (or her) behalf, sought to post cash bond."
     The detentions, Harper said, caused "unreasonable deprivation of liberty."
     Harper described being placed into "an overcrowded and unsanitary animal cage." Among other things, he said the processing involved "the non-consensual insertion of a swab into [his] penis [to test for STDs], the nonconsensual taking of blood, and a strip search which was conducted in a manner calculated to embarrass and humiliate."
     "Harper's actual complaint makes it seem that he is seeking to challenge the specific intake procedures utilized by the Sheriff such as the strip search and STD test," Judge Bauer wrote for the three-judge appellate panel. "But Harper assured us multiple times at oral argument that this case is not about searching and swabbing." The Chicago-based court found nothing unconstitutional about the jail's procedures, unless the process takes too long.
     But the time between a bond being posted and the release of a detainee depends on a number of factors, which are ultimately "individual issues," the court said.
     It vacated class certification and sent the case back to the district court.