By Alix Bryan and Catie Beck, WTVR, Reporting
Portsmouth, VA — A federal lawsuit alleging violations of the constitutional rights of nine women started last April at the Portsmouth City Jail.
“They felt degraded, they felt humiliated,” said David Morgan, attorney for the nine plaintiffs listed in the suit.
Nine female healthcare contractors providing healthcare services to inmates at the Portsmouth City Jail claimed that when they arrived at work they were sent with a female guard to a private room.
“They were told to completely remove their clothing, they were forced to bend over and cough while jail officials looked in their bodily cavities,” said ACLU lawyer Rebecca Glenberg.
Now the ACLU and Morgan are joining legal forces on behalf of the nine contract employees claiming a violation of fourth amendment rights.
“The sheriff has to have individualized suspicion, it’s well-settled law and has been for eleven years,” said Morgan.
Portsmouth Sheriff Bill Watson became aware of the lawsuit last week.
“I thought it was the biggest bunch of crap I’d ever heard in my life,” said Watson.
The Sheriff contends he has every right to strip search anyone coming in to his jail. He emphasized that includes his owns deputy. He says security is his primary concern and he had been having problems with contraband getting in to the jail.
“The nurses need to understand they don’t run the jail, we run the jail and they have the option to be searched or leave,” said Watson.
Watson believes the searches are part of his efforts to ensure inmate safety.
“The world’s gotten so politically correct you can’t do your job,” he said.
But the lawyers now opposing him in court argue that’s not the case here. They contend that while some amount of searching is permissible, constitutional rights shouldn’t have to be checked at the door.
“If government officials can do such an invasive search with no evidence whatsoever then what can’t they do,” said Glenberg.