Court Rules Strip Searches for South Dakota Teen Inmates Legal

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A federal appeals court has ruled that strip searches are allowed at the Minnehaha County Detention Center.

The decision overturned U.S. District Judge Lawrence Piersol, who had ruled the policy of strip-searching juveniles accused of minor offenses was unconstitutional.

Jodie Smook of Luverne, Minn., challenged the policy in court. In 1999, as a 16-year-old, Smook had to strip to her underwear for a curfew violation. Officials searched her for weapons, drugs and other contraband.

Upholding the strip-search policy, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said detention center officials are responsible for making sure that juveniles are not hiding weapons or drugs.

Smook's lawyer said an appeal is likely.

The case triggered changes in the center's search policy. Searches are not done if parents agree to pick up their children within two hours. And lawmakers prohibited strip searches of juveniles held for curfew violations unless there is probable cause.

Matt Piers of Chicago, who is Smook's lawyer, said the changes at the center are "absolutely not good enough."

"The issue is really much broader than curfew violators," he said.

The context of the situation meant that the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects against unreasonable searches, was not violated, Judge Steven Colloton wrote in the opinion.

The search was conducted in a private room by a female employee and was "done in the least intrusive manner feasible," said Gary Thimsen, lawyer for the county and detention center officials.

Piers said some members of the class-action lawsuit were naked when detention center officials searched them. Such searches were in line with policy at the time, he said.

"The fact is, the law is crystal clear that you couldn't do this to grown-ups," Piers said. "Children are injured to a much greater extent [than adults] when subjected to this procedure."

Thimsen said he objected to the term "strip-search" in news coverage of Smook's case because it can evoke images of nudity and body-cavity searches.

Piers said it is commonly understood that "strip" means to remove some and not necessarily all clothing.

"I defy you to find a place where it's defined as taking all your clothing off," he said.