New York Will Pay $50 Million in 50,000 Illegal Strip-Searches

          The Giuliani administration has agreed to pay up to $50 million to
          settle a lawsuit filed on behalf of tens of thousands of people who
          were illegally strip-searched after being arrested for minor offenses, many
          of which fell under the city's crackdown on quality of life violations.

          The searches were conducted by jail guards in Manhattan and Queens
          during 10 months in 1996 and 1997. Many of the victims of the illegal
          searches were first-time offenders who were arrested for minor
          infractions like loitering, disorderly conduct or subway offenses.

          The $50 million class action settlement could be paid out to more than
          50,000 people who were arrested during the 10 months. The lawsuit
          recounts several cases of men and women with no arrest record who
          said they felt humiliated as they were ordered to disrobe, lift their breasts
          or genitals for visual inspections, and to squat and cough.

          The minimum award will be $250, the maximum $22,500, though
          individual plaintiffs can appeal if they think they deserve a higher award
          based on their emotional suffering. A plaintiff who spent thousands of
          dollars on psychiatric care in the aftermath of a strip-search could seek
          additional damages to cover the fees, for example.

          All told, the settlement would be the largest in a civil rights suit against
          New York City, lawyers said, and appears to be one of the largest civil
          rights settlements against a municipality anywhere.

          The agreement, which is subject to approval by Judge John S. Martin Jr.
          of Federal District Court in Manhattan, and has not yet been announced,
          comes after two years of negotiations over how to compensate such a
          huge pool of victims.

          The deal includes a novel formula that seeks to tailor awards to the
          circumstances of each search and the resulting emotional impact. Both
          sides agreed that some victims had suffered more and therefore deserved
          more, like first-time offenders or those who endured abusive conduct by
          jail guards, or women who were menstruating.

          But for others, the psychological impact may have been less. For
          example, the settlement reduces the probability of larger awards for
          people who previously served time in prison, where strip-searches are
          routine. This part of the settlement would seem to address concerns that
          serious criminals or people who did not suffer psychological injury could
          benefit substantially.

          The city's Department of Correction has said that it adopted the policy of
          strip-searching all people arrested on minor charges "for security
          purposes." But a federal appeals court had ruled in 1986 that the Fourth
          Amendment barred strip- searches of people charged with
          misdemeanors or other minor offenses unless there was reasonable
          suspicion that weapons or contraband were concealed.

          "This is a precedent-setting settlement," said Richard D. Emery, the lead
          lawyer for the plaintiffs, "because it recognizes the degrading and
          dehumanizing aspects of a strip- search, and attempts to mold
          compensation to the individual circumstances of each victim of the city's
          ill-conceived policy."

          He added that given the large numbers of victims involved, the sliding
          scale formula for damage awards, which adds or subtracts points
          depending on the circumstances of the search and on whether a plaintiff
          has a criminal record, was the best resolution to the case.

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