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Claims dismissed in Md. prison strip search case

April 01, 2010|By DAVE DISHNEAU

HAGERSTOWN -- A federal judge in Baltimore has dismissed a lawsuit filed by eight state prison workers who claimed a strip search for drugs violated their constitutional rights.

The plaintiffs' lawyer said he expects to appeal the opinion entered Thursday by U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz.

The employees were searched after an Ionscan drug-detecting machine falsely signaled they were carrying drugs at the medium-security Maryland Correctional Training Center south of Hagerstown in August 2008.

The court found there is no clearly established law regarding the level of suspicion raised by such alerts. Therefore, Motz wrote, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services is entitled to qualified immunity from the claims.

"Such a conclusion is not meant to marginalize the plaintiffs' frustration, or condone certain actions alleged in the complaint," Motz wrote.

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The workers complained that the "sexually intrusive, humiliating" searches violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition of unreasonable search and seizure, and the 14th Amendment guarantee of due-process rights.

The episode prompted the prison agency to suspend its use of the machines and require the Division of Correction commissioner's approval for strip-searching staff members.

Motz wrote that the incident raised many questions about the efficacy of Ionscan machines.

"While these questions persist, it is clear that more specific DPSCS protocols are needed for the constitutional use of Ionscans as a predicate to the strip search of employees," he wrote.

The plaintiffs' lawyer, Baltimore-based Robert D. Schulte, said he disagrees with the ruling.

"I'm reasonably confident we are going to take an appeal to the Fourth Circuit," Schulte said.

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