Federal Judge Orders that Ohio Jail Cannot Delouse Inmates With Hoses, Conduct Group Strip Searches

In a landmark ruling last month, Judge Benita Y. Pearson of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio ordered that the City of Cleveland be forever barred from (1) using hoses to delouse (spray for lice) inmates, and (2) conduct group strip searches without appropriate privacy partitions. Atttorneys at Migliaccio & Rathod LLP – along with co-counsel – represent the Plaintiff, Tynisa Williams, who brought the suit as a class action.

Ms. Williams was arrested and booked in 2009 in Cleveland for minor charges related to her alleged failure to pay a traffic ticket.  At the jail, she was directed to undress and shower in the presence of a corrections officer and two other detainees. Afterward, a corrections officer strip searched her and sprayed her with delousing solution, including directly onto her private parts, though there was no indication that Ms. Williams carried contraband or lice. She was released the same day. She brought the class action lawsuit alleging violations of her right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

At an earlier phase of the suit, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Plaintiff, and declared that “[g]iven the significant incursion into plaintiffs’ privacy rights caused by the jail’s preferred method of searching and delousing them, the jail’s need to perform the searches in this particular manner must be unusually dire before it can outbalance the affront to plaintiffs’ privacy.” In her order last month, Judge Pearson found that the City of Cleveland’s practices violated the Constitution because they were, in fact, “not a rational response to the jail’s legitimate interest in preserving health and well-being within the facility, given other less humiliating and invasive alternative methods.”

Migliaccio & Rathod LLP is grateful that the court has prohibited the abhorrent practices of delousing by hose and conducting group strip searches in Cleveland, but also fears that other jails may be continuing to do the same. If you know of other jails that are delousing and/or strip searching inmates in a similar manner, please call Nicholas Migliaccio or Jason Rathod at 202-470-3520 or email [email protected] or [email protected]. Justice for all can start with you.