Woman in strip-search lawsuit speaks out about jail treatment

  • Medill News Service
  • February 02, 2006 @ 12:47 PM
A Milwaukee woman who said she was strip-searched in Cook County Jail following her arrest last year for not appearing in court on a speeding ticket is speaking out about her ordeal.

Kim Young, 44, was arrested at the intersection of West 83rd Street and South Kerfoot Avenue on Jan. 13, 2005, as she was driving with her family to a funeral in the city.

Young alleges she was taken to the county jail and subjected to a strip search, a vaginal probe and blood tests while waiting to post bond.

"I haven't been feeling the same since," Young said at a news conference Wednesday. "I felt totally violated."

Young is one of several plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit filed against the jail Monday.

Bill Cunningham, a spokesman for Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan, said he was confident the case would be dismissed because the strip searches conducted in the jail have been approved by a federal judge.

"The inmate search policy has been the subject of litigation many times," he said. "Intake searches are performed at every single jail and prison in the country.

"[Strip searches] are done to protect inmates and staff from weapons or other contrabands that would otherwise be smuggled into the facility," Cunningham added.

A second plaintiff in the lawsuit, Ronald Johnson, said he was and 100 other men in the jail were forced to strip naked communally.

Johnson's attorney, Mike Kanovitz, said Johnson and the other men were told to face a wall, bend over and spread their buttocks with their hands while being inspected by the jail's guards.

Young, speaking in public for the first time since the incident, said that when she arrived at the jail, she and 30 other women were lined up and taken behind a partition one by one. Young had to remove all her clothing and underwear and squat in front of guard who told her to cough, Kanovitz said.

Afterward, Young alleges, she was taken into a room and told she was going to be examined. Young said she asked the woman who would be examining her, but the woman ordered her to lay on the table without explanation.

"You're supposed to get permission for that [probing]," Young said at the news conference.

Young, who has three daughters and two grandchildren, said her daughters couldn't believe what happened to her.

"I was very upset," she said. "I couldn't understand why they were doing it."

Young added that since the incident, she has separated from her husband.

Cunningham would not comment on vaginal probing being conducted in the county jail. Vaginal probing and blood testing are carried out by Cermak Health Services of Cook County. A Cermak representative was unavailable for comment.

Cook County Jail officials have not performed the equivalent test on male detainees since the jail was sued over the practice several years ago.

Young said she has not been given copies of her blood tests or vaginal swab. Kanovitz alleged the results are being used for studies or data collection.

"There is no good medical reason to screen everyone who comes through the jail," Kanovitz said. "They don't screen for breast cancer, T.B. or communicable diseases."