Woodbury County officials in northwest Iowa have decided to pay three women a total of $385,000 to settle their lawsuits over strip searches at the county jail.
Woodbury County Board Chairman Larry Clausen said the board settled rather than risk trial and possibly pay more to complainants and their attorneys, the Sioux City Journal reported.
“Those numbers sometimes are astronomical,” he said.
The women said in their lawsuits that they were forced to take off their clothes in view of male jailers during incidents in 2006 and 2007. The women, who were in the jail on misdemeanor charges, sued in 2007 and 2008.
Dismissal papers were filed March 12. In the settlement, Maureen Rattray, of South Sioux City, Neb., was paid $335,000. Lori Mathes received $40,000 and Lisa Lambert $10,000.
“We felt that was a fair settlement, given what the jury awarded (in the first trial),” said David O’Brien, a Cedar Rapids attorney representing the women.
A U.S. District Court jury awarded Rattray more than $250,000 in 2011, but it was overturned and a retrial ordered because of inconsistencies in the verdict form. Rattray and Mathes’ cases were scheduled to go to trial earlier this week.
Lambert’s case was dismissed in December from a pretrial ruling, but O’Brien had considered appealing. Doug Phillips, the county’s attorney, said the settlement with Lambert saved the county legal costs.
Rattray’s settlement was higher because she also was forced to walk naked past male jailers and was subjected to a cavity search, O’Brien said.
“Her ordeal was significantly greater than Lori’s or Lisa’s,” O’Brien said.
Clausen said insurance will pay part of the settlement and attorney fees, and a $300,000 deductible will be paid out of the county’s liability fund.
The newspaper reported Woodbury County used to strip search all inmates charged with serious misdemeanors or greater offenses. The policy was changed in 2007 by the county’s former sheriff, Glenn Parrett. He was initially named in the lawsuits.
Officials now only perform strip searches if they believe a suspect may be hiding contraband.
O’Brien said he is representing other women suing the county over claims of unlawful strip searches in 2011 and 2012. Woodbury County Sheriff Dave Drew said the jail is adding more video cameras in an effort to enhance safety for jail workers and inmates.
“We’ll be able to see if what we’re doing is right and correct the things we’re doing that are not right,” he said.