LA County to pay $53M to settle suit over 'nightmare' strip searches of female inmates

Los Angeles County has agreed to pay out $53 million to settle a class-action lawsuit in which tens of thousands of female inmates accused jail guards of giving them invasive group strip searches – an occurrence one says left her feeling treated “worse than an animal.”

The settlement, filed with the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Tuesday, comes after former inmates said in a 2010 lawsuit that they were placed in groups of up to 50 and ordered to expose their genitals during intake inspections at the Sheriff's Department's Century Regional Detention Facility, while deputies shouted degrading comments.

"It's a nightmare I will never forget. I hope no human being has to live through it again," Mary Amador, a former inmate who's part of the class action, told the Associated Press.

Jessica Almaraz, another former inmate, told the Los Angeles Times that the searches left her feeling treated “worse than an animal.”

The Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood, Calif., where the invasive strip searches are alleged to have occurred. (Google Maps)

The Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood, Calif., where the invasive strip searches are alleged to have occurred. (Google Maps)

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The settlement applies to more than 93,000 women jailed between March 2008 and January 2015 at the facility in Lynwood.

Many of the examinations there occurred at night in a bus garage that was without heaters until 2014, the Associated Press reported, citing the lawsuit.

“Inmates could not avoid seeing each others’ bare bodies,” a filing from the plaintiffs was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying. “They could see pubic area, stretch marks, breasts missing from mastectomies, surgery scars, and tattoos.”

Those who were menstruating at the time of the searches also were told to take out their tampons, leaving them to bleed, the newspaper added.

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The county doesn't acknowledge wrongdoing and says the settlement was reached to avoid further legal costs.

Since the lawsuit was filed, the jail has implemented body scanners and added privacy curtains when conducting cavity searches. The county says 98 percent of female inmates are now searched with the body scanners, the Los Angeles Times reports.

In a statement, the county said it is "committed to making sure that reforms instituted by the Sheriff's Department since 2016 will continue to build a culture that prioritizes safety, dignity, and respect for inmates and staff."

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Barry Litt, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said he hopes the settlement's impact will be "a complete transformation of the jail's culture with a considered, gender responsive approach."

Up to $3 million of the payout, the Los Angeles Times reports, will go toward paying two outside consultants to review jail policies and offer further recommendations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.