CHARLESTON – A class action complaint filed by a Cabell County man challenges the alleged policy of strip searching and delousing people arrested for minor crimes when they're booked into one of the state's regional jails.
Michael Cantley is the named plaintiff in the suit against the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority and director Terry Miller. The suit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court.
Cantley contends that the "wholesale" strip searching and delousing of arrestees violate constitutional rights when jail officers have no reasonable suspicion that an arrestee is concealing a weapon or contraband.
"For at least the past 11 years, the (authority) has had a policy of strip searching all individuals who enter any of the West Virginia regional jails and placing them in jail clothing, regardless of the crime with which they are charged," the complaint says.
"In addition, the (authority) also requires that all pre-trial detainees be deloused by having corrections officers use plastic bottles to spray caustic delousing solution over the genitals of detainees."
Cantley, on behalf of the class, says case precedent holds that people charged with misdemeanors or other minor crimes can't be subjected to this treatment unless officers have reasonable suspicion.
Cantley was arrested on Sept. 28, 2008 for violating a protective order that was granted to his ex-wife. Cantley was near his ex-wife's home, which the order prohibited. The complaint says Cantley was not accused of harming his ex-wife or anyone else.
His complaint says there was no reasonable suspicion, based on the allegations against him, that he had a weapon or any contraband. State Police took Cantley to the Western Regional Jail, where he was initially placed in a holding cell.
After several hours, Cantley claims he was subjected to a strip search in a shower room.
"In connection with the strip search, (Cantley) was required to completely disrobe, lift his arms and legs, spread his butt cheeks, lift up his testicles and bend over, so that he could be inspected by a correctional officer," the complaint says.
Officers then sprayed Cantley down with the delousing solution and ordered him to shower in front of officers, the complaint says.
Cantley was released from jail on Nov. 6, 2008 and all the charges against him were dismissed, the complaint says.
As a result of the experience, Cantley claims he continues to suffer psychological pain, humiliation, suffering and mental anguish.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages as well as an end to the alleged policy of strip searching and delousing every inmate, no matter of the severity of the crime or presence of suspicion.
Lawyer D. Aaron Rihn, of Pittsburgh, Pa.; Elmer Robert Keach III, of Amsterdam, N.Y.; Gary E. Mason, Donna F. Solen and Nicholas A. Migliaccio, of Washington, D.C.; and Daniel R. Karon, of Cleveland, Ohio are representing the plaintiff.
U.S. District Court case number: 3:09-cv-0758