Degrading Strip Searches May Show Retaliation

     CHICAGO (CN) – A man who was repeatedly strip-searched in prison need only prove that retaliation was a motivating factor, not the only reason, the 7th Circuit ruled.
     In 2011, Tiberius May sued the corrections officers who strip-searched him during his incarceration at the Illinois state prison in Stateville.
     He said the officials subjected him to long, gratuitous strip searches intended to humiliate him, in retaliation for previous grievances he had filed against the prison, in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
     A jury eventually sided with the defendants, but the 7th Circuit ordered a new trial Tuesday, finding that the lower court gave the jury misleading instructions.
     On May’s Eighth Amendment claims, the trial judge told the jury to decide whether each defendant had “a valid penologic reason for the group search.”
     “The interrogatory was misleading,” Judge Richard Posner said, writing for a three-judge panel. “There may have been a valid penological reason for the search, yet it may not have been the reason or a reason; the reason may have been to humiliate the plaintiff. And as explained in our previous opinion yet unaccountably overlooked by the district judge, even if there was a valid penological reason ‘the manner in which the searches were conducted must itself pass constitutional muster.'”
     May claimed that the strip “searches were group searches that gratuitously exposed to other prisoners the nudity of each prisoner being searched and that the guards conducted the searches wearing dirty gloves in a freezing basement and uttering demeaning comments to the prisoners being searched, for example comments about their private parts,” according to the six-page opinion.
     The judge’s instructions wrongly placed the burden of proof on May to show that retaliation was the only possible reason for the group searches.
     “The jury should have been instructed that the plaintiff had the burden of proving that retaliation was a motivating factor in the strip search, but that, even if he proved this, the defendants could still prevail if they persuaded the jury that it was more likely than not that the strip search would have taken place even if there had been no retaliatory motive,” Posner wrote.

%d bloggers like this: