Woman who won strip-search lawsuit to have new trial

2011-03-12T00:00:00Z 2013-05-09T15:43:09Z Woman who won strip-search lawsuit to have new trialBy Dolly A. Butz -- dbutz@siouxcityjournal.com Sioux City Journal

SIOUX CITY – A South Sioux City woman who successfully sued the Woodbury County Jail over a strip search will have a new trial, a judge has ruled.

Maureen Rattray claimed in her civil lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Sioux City that her Fourth Amendment rights were violated when corrections officers allegedly performed a body-cavity search on her at the Woodbury County Jail in August 2006 after a drunken-driving arrest.

A jury granted Rattray more than $250,000 in damages after a three-day trial in January.

A few weeks later, Woodbury County asked U.S. District Court Judge Mark Bennett for a new trial because the verdict form was inconsistent.

Bennett wrote in his memorandum opinion and order filed Monday that granting a new trial is the only way to avoid a miscarriage of justice. Rattray's new trial is scheduled to begin May 9.

After nearly three hours of deliberations the jury awarded Rattray $5,000 on Jan. 18 for past emotional distress.

According to court documents, when Bennett received the verdict form he noticed that the jury's answers were inconsistant with each other and the verdict. After conferring with attorneys from both sides, Bennett told the jury members why the form was incorrect and sent them back to deliberate.

The jury then awarded Rattray more than $250,000 in damages on the second verdict form.

"My reason for ordering a new trial is that it is impossible to determine why the jury awarded $5,000 to Rattray for past emotional distress in the first verdict -- and then a few minutes later -- awarded $250,000 to Rattray for past emotional distress in the second verdict," Bennett wrote. 

Since the 1970s, the Woodbury County Jail had used strip searches on all inmates charged with serious misdemeanors or greater offenses. The jail stopped the practice Oct. 15, 2007, eight months after Rattray filed her complaint.

Rattray alleged that female jailers refused to shut a door while she disrobed with men outside the room. Rattray then was mocked for crying, had a halter top ripped from her body, and was forced to walk nude down a hallway while she clutched an orange jumpsuit, according to the lawsuit.

Rattray was allegedly subjected to two body cavity searches, one in which one of the jailers held her face-down in the cell with a knee in her back.

Woodbury County officials acknowledged that the strip search took place but said it was not conducted by a sheriff's deputy. Officials with the Woodbury County jail denied that the alleged cavity searches and the walk past the cells happened.

Lisa Lambert and Lori Mathes, who filed similar suits against the county, are scheduled to have their case for liability and damages claims go to trial March 28.

Melinda Barkley, Amy Meyer and Vickie Dawdy filed a class action suit in November alleging prisoner civil rights violations after they were arrested on misdemeanor charges during 2006 and 2007.

Their jury trial is set to begin April 23.

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