Local attorney raps strip-search ruling
CAPITAL REGION The Supreme Court decision that is clearing the way for criminal suspects to be strip-searched at jails, regardless of how serious or minor a charge they face, is drawing a strong reaction from a local attorney who has handled such cases.
In a ruling publicized Monday, the nation’s highest court decided it’s too difficult for corrections officials to discern between nonviolent offenders unlikely to bring weapons or contraband into a jail.
“They’re going to start strip-searching people charged with misdemeanors tonight,” said Amsterdam attorney E. Robert Keach, who successfully sued Schenectady, Montgomery and Rensselaer counties for strip-searching detainees without probable cause.
Montgomery County agreed to a $2 million settlement in 2006 and developed a new admissions search policy after Keach’s class-action lawsuit.
The suit began with the complaint of a Fort Plain resident who had to strip naked, bend over and move his private parts around for corrections officers in 2001.
Paul Mariott had been sent to the jail after being charged with not properly feeding his horses, a misdemeanor violation of the state Agriculture and Markets Law.
Blanket strip-search policies had been considered unconstitutional since the 1980s.
“That fact that we’ve had 30 years of case precedent that says strip-searches are illegal means nothing,” Keach said Monday.
Such procedures cost Rensselaer County and its insurers $2.7 million, and a similar lawsuit in Schenectady County yielded a $2.5 million settlement.
Montgomery County Undersheriff Jeffery T. Smith said it’s unclear what the decision will mean.
Smith said the county’s public safety facility has been following court-mandated intake procedures since the county lost the lawsuit over its strip-search protocol.
Smith said since then, jail workers remain in fear of the possible consequences.
“There still are concerns. What we’re doing is following the law as determined by those lawsuits to a T. By doing that, there still are major concerns on our part about the possibility of things being brought into this facility that could hurt other inmates or our staff. Those concerns haven’t changed or decreased,” Smith said.