Cross-posted at DailyKos. Three women, “who Miami-Dade police illegally strip-searched after their arrests” — following protests outside the November 2003 Free Trade Area of the Americas Conference in downtown Miami — have won “a $6.25 million class action settlement for themselves and thousands of other women subjected to similar treatment.”

Miami police, it turns out, have been routinely strip-searching women at the county jail for years. And so have cops in Sacramento and — get this — San Francisco … More below:
From today’s NewStandard News:

A federal judge signed the tentative agreement Monday, which could apply to up to 50,000 people jailed at the Women’s Detention Center and other Miami-Dade County correctional facilities between March 5, 2000, and February 28, 2005, the Miami Herald reports.

It turns out the successful attorney was Mark Merin of Sacramento, CA who recently won “the largest settlement in the history of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department over strip-search violations at the county jail.” Merin has filed “similar suits in other counties in California as well as in Miami.” In a stunning interview with Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman on August 24, 2004, Merin described the Sacramento strip searches:

MARK MERIN: Yes. Well, just recently, we got preliminary approval of a settlement for $15 million to be shared among 16,000 people, who over the last four years have been arrested in Sacramento for minor crimes and then subjected to humiliating complete visual body cavity searches in groups in the Sacramento County main jail. And this had been going on for years until a group of activists who arrested in a demonstration in March of 2000 stood up to the jail administration and said, we are not going to cooperate in this dehumanizing practice that you seem to think is routine. Then they came to me, and we discovered that it wasn’t just activity reserved for the activists, but it was mistreatment that was very common, and in fact once we started peeling back the layers of secrecy involved in this practice, we discovered that there were 16,000 people who were illegally strip searched.

AMY GOODMAN: Give me an example?

MARK MERIN: An example of the strip search? A group of women who didn’t know each other, could be 18 years old to 78, would be brought into a room, six or eight at a time, in a room that was no longer – no larger than six by eight feet with footprints painted on the floor. Then were totally naked. They had been disrobed before they entered the room. Then they had to in groups bend over, expose their body cavities, spread their genitalia for visual inspection with someone with a flashlight looking in, harassing them, ordering them at times to jump, to dance.

People — Mormons who wear a religious garment so they can enter the temple were ordered to rip it off, or to remove it or it would be ripped off. Women who were menstruating without any sanitary napkins were required to remove tampons and stand there bleeding in other people’s blood. I mean, absolutely unbelievable. And it was videotaped. All of these were archived. These videotapes were archived so that they – they thought they could actually use these to show that perhaps there was some kind of security need that they had to inspect people’s crevices in order to insure that things wouldn’t be smuggled in.

AMY GOODMAN: Over how long a period did this take place?

MARK MERIN: Well, we know that it took place at least from 2000 up to the present day, because we got discovery, but we believe that it went back until 1984. …

These humiliating, unconstitutional searches weren’t confined to Sacramento and Miami. They also occurred in San Francisco:

[W]e discovered that in San Francisco, a very similar and even in some ways more egregious practice has been going on, and that is that they is have been requiring people to sign consents to being illegally strip searched. People who could not be strip searched. And in one year 4000 people were required to sign these consents. People who refused to sign consents, such as, again, activists who contacted our office, were then illegally forcibly strip searched in rooms which were essentially isolation rooms where they were then held naked for 12 or 24 hours at a time as kind of punishment for having resisted the direction to consent.

… We recently have had a court certify that to move forward as a class action. The County of San Francisco has asked us to mediate that dispute. It looks like we’re looking at thousands of plaintiffs in that case, and these are people who were just picked up for drunk driving, for loitering, for being under the influence. Anything.

Merin spoke to Goodman in August 2004 about the Miami case, which was just settled, as well as the extent of the practice and its continuation in overseas prisons such as Abu Ghraib:

We also have a suit pending in Miami Dade, Florida, because following the FTAA convention or activities there, the demonstrations, demonstrators were picked up and segregated, women and men, and the women were strip-searched. So, we are attacking that practice. It seems that it’s very current with the Abu Ghraib disclosures to discover that nudity, forced nudity and group nudity and activities in the nude is a way that the administration in these facilities oppress and dehumanize the jail population.

AMY GOODMAN: When you heard about what happened at Abu Ghraib and other detention facilities in Iraq, your thoughts?

MARK MERIN: I realized that the people who were sent over there from the United States to run those prisons were just extending the experience that they had here in our prison system. It seems that it was just a further step that they were taking to use nudity to control and dehumanize and humiliate. And I – of course, I was shocked, but I have been shocked every time I learn about new abuses here in Marin County or San Mateo, where we have other suits pending. …

See also:

  • Stop the FTAA
  • Fragments of the Future: The FTAA in Miami, from Alternet: “What went down in Miami was a dramatic example of how hallowed American rights are being dismantled in the name of the war on terrorism.”

Emphases mine.

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