Panel Revives Fired Officer’s Search Protest

     (CN) – The 8th Circuit has reinstated the constitutional claims of a Nebraska corrections officer who was fired for refusing to allow a random search of his vehicle in the employee parking lot.

     The St. Louis-based appeals panel acknowledged that Brian True, like other corrections officers, has a “diminished” expectation of privacy due the safety demands of his job.
     But True claimed that the random car search went too far, because the Lincoln Correction Center had no basis or suspicion to conduct such a search.
     The center performed random searches in its employee parking lot to prevent contraband from entering the prison. Although the lot is not within prison boundaries, the center said “community custody” inmates might have access to it.
     Staffers were apparently warned in the employee handbook that their cars were subject to search, and signs at the parking lot entrances carry the same warning.
     True was fired when he refused to consent to the search.
     He sued Nebraska, the center and several prison authorities, claiming his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated. Although the search never took place, he said it was unconstitutional for the center to fire him for resisting an unreasonable search.
     A federal judge granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, but the 8th Circuit reversed, citing “genuine issues of material fact as to the circumstances of inmate access to vehicles in the lot.”
     It was therefore unclear whether the search was reasonable, the court said, reviving and remanding the Fourth Amendment claim.
     But the three-judge panel rejected True’s claim that the prison defendants had violated his right to equal protection by randomly searching the cars of employees but not visitors.
     Judge William Benton said this differential treatment is “rationally related to the legitimate state interests of institutional security, contraband interdiction, and administrative efficiency.”

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