ACLU of R.I. Sues Police Over Illegal Strip-Search; Woman Was Left Naked in Holding Cell for Five Hours

May 15, 2002 12:00 am

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PROVIDENCE, R.I.–The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island today filed a federal lawsuit against the Woonsocket Police Department on behalf of a woman who was strip-searched and left naked in a holding cell for over five hours after being arrested for “”driving under the influence.””

“”The treatment Joann Lanoue received was totally uncalled for and an incredible invasion of her privacy and dignity,”” said Steven Brown, Executive Director of the ACLU of Rhode Island. “”We are hopeful that this lawsuit will prevent any other people arrested in Woonsocket from being subjected to these inappropriate and demeaning procedures in the future.””

According to the ACLU complaint, on December 15, 2001, Lanoue was involved in a car accident and taken to the police station, where she refused to take a Breathalyzer test. A female police officer then forced her to undergo a strip-search. All of Lanoue’s clothes were taken from her and she was left fully naked in a holding cell for approximately five to six hours with a camera located directly in front of the cell. A male police officer then came by and threw Lanoue’s clothing into the cell. She was released from the police station the next morning. The driving under the influence charge was ultimately dismissed.

The ACLU lawsuit calls the strip search “”demeaning, dehumanizing, undignified [and] humiliating.”” “”It is well-settled law,”” the ACLU said, that a strip search of an arrestee who is charged with a minor offense is unconstitutional absent a reasonable suspicion that the person is concealing a weapon or contraband.

The lawsuit, filed by ACLU of Rhode Island volunteer attorney V. Edward Formisano, seeks a court order declaring the police department’s conduct unconstitutional, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

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