High Court Won’t Touch Ariz. Strip-Search Case

      (CN) – The Supreme Court on Monday refused to take another look at a decision that blasted Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for subjecting a male pretrial detainee to an unreasonable jailhouse strip search by a female cadet.

     The 9th Circuit ruled in January that cross-gender strip searches, conducted outside of emergency cases, violate inmates’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches.
     Charles Byrd had sued Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio; the female cadet, Kathleen O’Connell; and Capt. Austin Peterson, O’Connell’s supervisor, for civil rights violations under the Fourth and 14th amendments.
     The trial court dismissed Arpaio and Peterson, finding that they had not participated in the search, and the jury ruled in favor of O’Connell on all counts.
     Jail officials ordered the search of Byrd and about 90 other inmates in his housing unit after several fights occurred and contraband was suspected in the jail.
     Byrd was ordered to remove all his clothing, except for the pink, thin boxer shorts he was wearing, and enter a common area with a group of other inmates. Cadets from the detention officer training academy were waiting in the room to search the inmates in the presence of their training supervisors.
     “O’Connell touched Byrd’s inner and outer thighs, buttocks and genital area with her latex-gloved hand through very thin boxer shorts,” the 9th Circuit judges wrote. “She moved his penis and scrotum in the process of conducting the search.”
     The cadets wore jeans and white T-shirts with their last names printed on the back, but did not have any other forms of identification. Byrd claimed that male detention officers stood by watching the search, but did not participate, and at least one person videotaped the search of the inmates.
     On appeal, the three-judge panel in San Francisco ruled that the District Court “eliminated the jury’s contemplation of whether the cross-gender strip search violated Byrd’s right under the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable search.”
     Cross-gender supervision was determined to have its benefits by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, the ruling states, but ultimately the commission determined that the “extraordinarily intrusive” searches should be prohibited to prevent abuse among cross-gender, nonmedical staff, except in the case of emergency.
     Maricopa County’s own policy prohibits cross-gender strip searches, but it “painstakingly attempted to establish that the cross-gender search Byrd underwent was not a strip search,” and was actually a pat-down search, according to the 9th Circuit.
     This was not the case since Byrd was only wearing boxers at the time of the search, and the female officer twice touched his penis and scrotum, and searched inside his anus. There also was “by no means an overwhelming number” of inmates searched at a time, and other than her name printed on the back of the T-shirt, O’Connell was unidentified, the ruling states.

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