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Millions in strip search claims unpaid

A deadline nears for women humiliated in illegal searches to collect shares of a Miami-Dade class action settlement.

Associated Press
Published August 26, 2005

MIAMI - More than 5,000 women who were illegally strip-searched are running out of time to file claims for up to $3,000 each in one of the largest civil rights settlements in Miami-Dade County.

The women have until midnight Sept. 1 to submit postmarked forms to qualify for payments for illegal searches conducted at the Women's Detention Center following misdemeanor arrests.

"These are the neediest of the needy. These are people who are down on their luck; many of them may be homeless," said Randall Berg, executive director of the nonprofit Florida Justice Institute, a public interest law firm.

"Some of them have been fairly traumatized" by the illegal search, Berg said, such as a woman forced to take off her shirt and bra in front of male correctional inmates. "She was crying in our office" more than a year later, he said.

The $4.5-million settlement stemmed from a class-action lawsuit filed by three women protesters arrested at a 2003 free trade conference. They claimed Miami-Dade County jailers unnecessarily strip-searched them, and that they were forced to squat naked and hop in front of passers-by.

"The type of strip search that I and thousands of women experienced was about humiliation and control, not about safety," Judith Haney, one of the women who sued, said later.

Miami-Dade County denied any wrongdoing in agreeing to the settlement.

Individual payments depend on the ages and conditions of the women searched.

Some 100,000 men and women are also eligible to collect $10 each for strip searches conducted without a supervising officer's written permission.

Berg said only 970 people have filed claims, despite mailed notices, published advertisements and notices given to homeless shelters.

The two-page form is available at public libraries or by calling 1-877-437-8747. It can also be downloaded from the Web site

[Last modified August 26, 2005, 01:35:09]

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