Oct 17, 2012 9:59 PM
TUCSON-Lawsuits over strip searches at county jails have taken a huge bite out of several county budgets. Inmates argued their rights had been violated.
Santa Cruz County had ot pay out $4 million to settle a lawsuit. Cook County in Chicago, $55 million, San Bernardino, $25 million. Pima County was facing a similar lawsuit in 2009, but with a very different ending.
The lawsuit opened the door for a potentially devastating blow to the county's budget.
Captain, India Davis says, "It would have been a very expensive lawsuit had we lost."
Roughly 40,000 inmates are booked into the Pima County Jail every year. If the inmates had won the lawsuit, the county could have been facing a payout of $20 million dollars or more, and that's a conservative estimate.
Lt. Sean Stewart "We don't do searches on individuals because it's fun. We do them for the safety and security of this facility, the inmates, and our staff."
The jail has over 450 surveillance cameras that record every move, including initial pat downs when inmates are booked.
The Supreme Court allows a strip search if officers have suspicions. Captain Davis explains, "People who look like they may be concealing or act like they might be concealing drugs or weapons or contraband could be searched."
Corrections officers say they've found drugs, and weapons during initial pat downs.
Captain Davis says corrections officials and the County Attorney's office worked 2 1/2 years on this lawsuit and while the plaintiff's attorneys wanted to settle out of court. Jail officials refused."We knew we had done nothing wrong, we had documentation we had done nothing wrong." Lt. Stewart adds, "We were doing everything legally that we were allowed to do while conducting searches."
The county held its ground and it paid off. The lawsuit was recently dismissed.