ONTD Political

If you don't want to be strip-searched, look for a new job

12:45 am - 05/01/2012
Female workers sue over Portsmouth strip searches

Nan Vollette, a mental health counselor, knew working at the Portsmouth City Jail meant she was subject to searches. She figured she'd be subject to a pat-down, maybe.

Not in a million years, Vollette said, did she expect to have someone tell her to strip down for a visual body-cavity search.

"I don't think anybody would have expected that," she said.

Now she and eight other women - all employees of companies that hold contracts at the jail - have filed federal lawsuits against Portsmouth Sheriff Bill Watson.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, which represents the women, said in a news release Monday that the searches were conducted as "part of an ongoing investigation of drugs being brought into the jail."

Vollette's suit, which also names other jail staff members as defendants, states that around April 22, 2011, -Watson "ordered that all civilian contract employees be subjected to a strip search and visual body-cavity search."

It states that "Watson did not have any individualized suspicion that any particular employee.... was carrying on or about their person any contraband or illegal item into or out of the jail or committing any crime."

ACLU lawyers said the jail's actions violated the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution regarding unreasonable searches.

Watson said Monday that anyone coming into the jail, including himself, is "subject to be searched like anybody else."

"If anybody doesn't like the policy, look for a new job," he said. "We're going to stop this contraband from coming into this jail."

According to Vollette's suit, she was told she would be barred from the jail if she did not submit.

Vollette was told when she arrived at work that all the nurses at the jail had already submitted to the search, she said. Vollette and the nurses worked for the same company: Correct Care Solutions.

She felt faint, she said, and told a jail staff member: "This is very invasive. I don't know if I can do this."

The jail employee told her she had been directed to escort Vollette out the door if she refused.

Afterward, Vollette went up to her office.

"And I just cried like a baby. I'm almost 60 years old, and I cried like a baby.

"I think we all feel that we were raped," she said.

Vollette said people asked her afterward why she didn't just leave.

"It is a very intimidating situation," she said.

She had started working at the jail just two months earlier, she said, and didn't want to be left unemployed again.

Along with Vollette, six nurses with Correct Care Solutions filed suit. They are Angelene Cannon-Coleman, Barbara Stokley, Yolanda Vines, HaShena Hockaday, Verita Braswell and Emma Lee Floyd-Sharp. Suits also were filed on behalf of Marilyn Scott and Donnetta Austin, employees of Aramark Correctional Facility Food Service.

Vollette said six of the women still worked at the jail but had their security clearances revoked Monday.

The lawsuit was filed Friday.

According to Vollette's lawsuit, one of the sheriff's officials who performed searches told her "now you know how the inmates feel when we do this to them."

The suits seek monetary damages ranging from $5 million to $20 million, according to David Morgan, a Richmond attorney working on the case.

The lawsuits also seek an injunction to prevent such searches from occurring again.

The search policy is posted on the wall at every entrance to the jail. Watson said that the search was done on some deputies, as well, and that searches on women were done by women.

He said deputies did not find contraband on anyone, possibly because word was out that they were strip-searching people.

"Once we did that one strip-search, seemed like the contraband just dried right up."

Watson said all jails do similar searches, but Portsmouth had not done any in a while.

"You come in my jail, you're going to play by my rules. It's pretty laid out," he said.

Rebecca Glenberg, legal director with the ACLU of Virginia, said the organization has not heard of similar cases.

"Often, people who have been subjected to this very demeaning kind of search would rather just forget about it than to report it," she said.

According to two of the lawsuits, including Vollette's, the women were told to take off their clothes, bend over and cough so a staff member could "peer into" their body cavities. Glenberg explained that the term "visual body-cavity search" means no one "put their fingers in anyone's cavities."

Paula Miller, a spokeswoman for the Norfolk sheriff's office, said such a search would never be performed on employees there.

The Norfolk jail has signs telling people who enter that they are subject to search at any time, but that means an external search, Miller said. Deputies might check their pockets, briefcases and bags, wand them or have them walk through a metal detector, she said.

Miller said the director of professional standards there put it best, saying you don't strip-search contract workers just because you suspect someone is bringing contraband into the jail.

"It doesn't work like that," Miller said. "There has to be probable cause, and it's not just aimed at a group of people."

tiddlywinks103 1st-May-2012 08:49 am (UTC)
So disgusted at this power-mad fool. I hope they win.
lickbrains 1st-May-2012 11:21 pm (UTC)
lilyginny27 1st-May-2012 01:13 pm (UTC)
I can't even.
lee_rowan 1st-May-2012 02:36 pm (UTC)
"Now you know how the inmates feel..." Well, guy, the inmates are in there because they were convicted of a crime.

Sounds like these bullies could benefit from the Dull Gelding Knife Award.
thepikey 1st-May-2012 03:21 pm (UTC)
Spoon. Dull Gelding Spoon.

They're also nominated for the Rusty division!
mirhanda 1st-May-2012 05:36 pm (UTC)
If it's jjust a jail, I think some of them, maybe even most, have only been arrested for a crime, not convicted. Most convicted people go to some sort of prison.
lee_rowan 1st-May-2012 07:03 pm (UTC)
Possibly - but even so, visiting medical personnel are not under arrest and should not be treated as criminals. And the "It's MAH jail, I'll do what I like" suggests a dangerous ignorance of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
mirhanda 1st-May-2012 07:44 pm (UTC)
lickety_split 1st-May-2012 08:53 pm (UTC)
In the States, jail is for people that have been convicted and sentenced to incarceration for under a year (also used for brief detainment), and prison is for people that are sentenced to over 1 year.
mirhanda 1st-May-2012 08:56 pm (UTC)
But you will be in jail if you are arrested and not bailed out is what I'm saying. That's where they keep you. Every person in prison has been convicted of a crime, but you can't say that about people in jail.
sankaku_atama 1st-May-2012 11:43 pm (UTC)
There's this lovely little tool in veterinary medicine called the elastrator....
doverz 1st-May-2012 02:47 pm (UTC)
littlelauren86 1st-May-2012 03:38 pm (UTC)
That sounds like a humiliating process. If someone's bringing drugs in, then why can't they use body scanners or drug-sniffing dogs? Far less intrusive. Then do the cavity search if there's a reasonable suspicion.
mirhanda 1st-May-2012 05:36 pm (UTC)
luminescnece 1st-May-2012 04:21 pm (UTC)
This is a shitty shitty shitty thing to do to your employees. That said, as far as my understanding of American labour law goes; as long as everyone is equally subjected to it, isn't this pretty much ok? Where is these people's union in all this? Do they have one?

This makes me rage inside and feel like American workers ALL need to step up and agitate together for collectively better work environments where their employers can't bring in bullcrap regulations like this and can't fire them at the drop of a hat if they fail to comply (or if they've only been employed for 3 months, etc, etc.)

The more I hear about the nature of work in America, the more disgusted I am and the more I see how it isn't that much different in Canada. Which scares me. In France the youth rioted in the streets when the government put in a bill to make their working conditions more like the United States' (I can't remember if that Bill went through or not).
ljtaylor 1st-May-2012 05:22 pm (UTC)
Yeah it bothers me that the UK is going down this route - at least in my own experience of job hunting when I was asked downright ridiculous crap at what limited interviews I got. We're not as extreme as the US, but we do like to take after them...
romp 1st-May-2012 06:33 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I sense BC is following the US example of being anti-union, anti-worker. Because PROFIT!

I agree that it isn't going to change until the large number of people demand change. Too bad there's lost ground at all...
(no subject) - Anonymous
romp 2nd-May-2012 01:09 am (UTC)
People who care about others, yeah, but if you're in it for yourself and your friends...
kitanabychoice 1st-May-2012 04:28 pm (UTC)
This is totally invasive. I'd definitely not want someone trying to peer into my vagina as conditions for continued employment, especially if I had no previous record of infractions. I'm glad these women are filing suit.

That being said, I think the damages that the lawsuits are seeking are a little extreme, though. :|
spiffynamehere 1st-May-2012 04:41 pm (UTC)
ugh ugh ugh D:
carmy_w 1st-May-2012 05:54 pm (UTC)
I'd bet the farm that the Sheriff himself didn't get strip-searched-the fucking jackass.
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