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Lawsuits filed in Va. jail strip searches

Monday - 4/30/2012, 4:12pm  ET

NORFOLK, Va. - Nine female contractors are suing Portsmouth City Jail officials, alleging jail employees violated their constitutional rights when they forced them to strip and undergo visual body-cavity searches during a drug-smuggling investigation.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia has filed the lawsuits in federal court in Norfolk. Each lawsuit alleges that Sheriff Bill Watson illegally ordered deputies to perform the searches in April 2011 on the workers, who worked for Correct Care Solutions or Aramark Correctional Facility Food Service. If the women didn't consent, they were barred from the jail and thus risked losing their jobs.

The ACLU argues that the searches were illegal because there wasn't any specific suspicion that any of the workers actually carried drugs.

"It is important that shocking invasions of privacy like these do not go unchecked," ACLU of Virginia legal director Rebecca K. Glenberg said Monday in a statement. "This sort of bodily intrusion is precisely what the Constitution is meant to prevent."

The six nurses, a mental health counselor and two food-service workers are seeking punitive damages and an injunction prohibiting subsequent illegal searches.

Lt. Lee Cherry of the Portsmouth Sheriff's Office declined to comment on the lawsuits on Monday.

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