A Sioux City attorney says Woodbury County jailers have continually violated the constitutional rights of female prisoners by conducting unwarranted strips searches in the county jail. Attorney Dave O’Brien is representing Shannon Peters and Nicole Clay in lawsuits against the county and the Sheriff’s Department over the strip searches.
He says three women have received settlements of 385-thousand dollars in strip search cases, but that didn’t solve the problem. “Jail administration stood up and eventually understood that what they were doing was wrong and their policy was unconstitutional and they’ve corrected that. And I applaud them for that,” O’Brien says.
“But unfortunately there are certain correctional officers that just haven’t gotten the message. And that’s what happened to Shannon, most recently, and also to Nicole Clay.” O’Brien says his clients were given unlawful demands by jailers and read testimony from a case deposition by Jail Administrator, Lieutenant Lynett Phillips, regarding the strip searches of Clay and Peters.
“If the correctional officer tells the detainee you have to strip naked in front of me even when the policy does not justify the detainee taking their clothes off, is the detainee required to follow the instructions of the correctional officer. Answer, ‘yes’,” O’Brien read. “They don’t get it.”
O’Brien says a deposition from the officer in charge when Clay was brought in on a public intoxication charge said she was forced to strip in front of him after refusing to undress herself. O’Brien says his clients were brought to the jail for legitimate reasons, but that does not allow for their rights to be violated.
He says the Woodybury County Jail needs a top to bottom overhaul. Woodbury County Sheriff Dave Drew was not in office when the strip searches happened. He says he cannot comment on the ongoing lawsuits, and has been advised not to meet with O’Brien.
“At one time after I took office he wanted to meet with me…and through the legal advice of three different attorneys, “I) said it would be best if we met after litigation was over,”Drew said. Drew says he kept the jail administrator in place, although some changes and reviews are taking place.
He says since he has taken office there are supervisors overseeing each shift at the jail and they are working on going over the policies and directives. Drew says jailers have a tough job, but people must be treated with respect and dignity.
By Woody Gottburg, KSCJ, Sioux City