ACLU of Rhode Island Settles Case with Police Over Illegal Strip-Search of Woman

June 30, 2004 12:00 am

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PROVIDENCE, RI–The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island today announced that a settlement had been reached in a federal lawsuit against the Woonsocket Police Department on behalf of a woman who was strip-searched and left naked in a holding cell for over five hours after being arrested for “”driving under the influence.”” Under the settlement, the defendants agreed to pay $65,000 to Joann Lanoue in exchange for dismissal of the suit.

“”The ACLU and Ms. Lanoue are very pleased that this case has been settled without the need for a trial,”” said ACLU of Rhode Island Executive Director Steven Brown. “”We believe the settlement is fair compensation for the invasion of privacy that occurred that night, and will help prevent other people arrested in Woonsocket for minor offenses from being subjected to inappropriate and demeaning procedures in the future.””

According to the ACLU complaint, on December 15, 2001, Lanoue was involved in a car accident and taken to the police station, where she refused to take a Breathalyzer test. A female police officer then forced her to undergo a strip-search. All of Lanoue’s clothes were then taken from her and she was left fully naked in a holding cell for approximately five to six hours with a camera located directly in front of the cell. A male police officer then came by and threw Lanoue’s clothing into the cell. She was released from the police station the next morning. The driving under the influence charge was ultimately dismissed.

The ACLU lawsuit called the strip search “”demeaning, dehumanizing, undignified [and] humiliating.”” “”It is well-settled law”” the ACLU said, that a strip-search of an arrestee who is charged with a minor offense is unconstitutional absent a reasonable suspicion that the person is concealing a weapon or contraband.

The lawsuit was filed by ACLU of Rhode Island volunteer attorney V. Edward Formisano.

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