Wayne County Sued Over 'Humiliating' Strip Searches Of Female Inmates

May 15, 2019 - 5:53 pm

DETROIT (WWJ) - Multiple female inmates have filed suit against Wayne County Jail officials, saying they were forced to strip in front of male guards during body searches.

Attorney Michael Dezsi, who represents the women, said these group strip searches amount to unreasonable invasion of privacy, in violation of the inmates' Fourth Amendment rights.

"They strip search the women every time they go in and out of the jail. So every time a woman would leave the jail to go to court, for instance, she would be subject to a strip search," Dezsi told WWJ's Sandra McNeill. "Usually there were anywhere from three, four, five, six, seven, eight women at a time that were placed in a room. They were made to undress, you know, completely naked. They were made to bend over squat, cough."

The complaint, Dezsi said, alleges that the strip searches were conducted even during the inmates' menstrual cycles.

"There were bodily fluids and blood that was being discharged in the room when these women were in close proximity to each other. So there was obviously some health concerns and safety issues," he said. "They'd complain, they would be upset. Some of them would be crying saying, 'I don't want to do this,' and they would be told, 'No. You don't have a choice. This is how it works.'"

While female guards would conduct the strip searches, Dezsi said many times male officers would stand by watching. 

"Because there's either two-way mirrors or there's an open window in some of these rooms; and they would see male officers on the other side of the room and they could see them," Dezsi said. "There's literally hundreds of statements and affidavits from these women that are all saying the same thing: That they're strip searching them in the presence of male officers, and sometimes even male inmates that are trustees."

Former inmate Katrina Woodall, who was 21 year old when this happened to her, said she heard the male guards laugh. 

"It was humiliating," she told McNeill. "Violated; I felt less than a woman...I was so young, I didn't really know my rights."

Woodall said she's educated herself since that time and now wants to help others. "I read books and I read everything about how a woman should be treated," she said. "And I didn't read nothing about what happened to me. What happened to me was foul; what happened to the other women was foul."

Denzi filed a lawsuit this week involving women currently in the jail; while another involving former inmates is pending.

County officials say the allegations are under investigation.