UPDATED: 11/16/10 – 2:54 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – A $55 million settlement has been reached in a class-action lawsuit over strip searches at the Cook County Jail.
The Cook County Board approved the settlement at its regular meeting Tuesday.
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A federal jury in August 2009 found in favor of the inmates who filed the lawsuit against the Cook County Sheriff’s Office. At the time, a spokesman for the jail said the case was “ripe for appeal.”
The alleged conduct happened at the jail from February 2007 to March 2009, according to a release last year from the Loevy & Loevy law firm, which said hundreds of thousands of illegal searches were made and plaintiffs.
In a statement Tuesday afternoon, the sheriff’s department said, “These claims were made years before Sheriff [Tom] Dart took office and are based on past practices at the Cook County Jail – practices which haven’t existed in years.”
“Sheriff Dart took office in December 2006 and within 90 days, he had screens installed to ensure privacy during searches. That temporary measure existed while Dart sought to install state-of-the-art body scanning machines so that strip searching could be all but eliminated and privacy could be guaranteed,” Dart’s office added. “Thanks to those machines, for years now, strip searches have only been conducted when those scanners indicate there is probable cause to conduct a more detailed search of a person.
The verdict follows a federal court ruling that searches conducted at the jail from January 2004 to February 2007 were unconstitutional, a release last year said.
The jury found that Sheriff Tom Dart’s employees frequently used sexually degrading language and inappropriately touched arrestees’ genitals during the searches, which were conducted in open hallways with vomit and feces on the floor.
Some plaintiffs also claimed that jail guards used insults or abusive language about such characteristics as body odor, anatomy, race and sexual orientation, law firm Loevy & Loevy said.
Many of the arrestees were at the jail on misdemeanor charges simply because they could not afford to make bail, the 2009 release said.
Sheriff’s officials said last year that the department began introducing body-canning technology in 2007 to eliminate the need for strip searches in most cases, and by 2009, the entire jail complex used the scanners.
The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.