PORTLAND, Maine — An Old Orchard Beach woman who spent three days in the Cumberland County Jail has sued the county, alleging that she was strip-searched repeatedly and forced to shower in front of male inmates and guards as they ridiculed her.
The claim by Marci Ladakakos rekindles the legal debate over strip searches at Maine jails, which were the focus of class-action lawsuits in recent years in York and Knox counties.
In her lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, Ladakakos, 30, is seeking damages for what she claims was a violation of her civil rights.
“She has been traumatized and embarrassed by this entire incident,” said her lawyer, Neal Weinstein. “It’s amazing to me that they think they are above the law.”
Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion says the allegations don’t hold up. He says Ladakakos was on suicide watch at the time the incidents allegedly occurred and the jail’s strip-search policies make such misconduct impossible.
“Our protocols are pretty clear, in terms of the place it’s done, the manner it is done,” Dion said. “As far as this gawking, parade type of thing happening, no. As a matter of practice, that can’t happen.”
The jail’s policy on searches matches the model policy recommended by several national corrections agencies, Dion said.
“Our goal is to make sure that we preserve people’s dignity and sense of privacy” while also maintaining a secure environment, he said.
The incidents allegedly began on July 10, 2007, when Ladakakos was arrested and brought to jail for failure to appear in court on five theft charges, four of them felonies. The sheriff said a female guard strip-searched Ladakakos as she changed into jail clothes and was placed in an isolated cell in the jail’s medical unit.
Weinstein questioned why repeated searches were needed when his client remained in an isolated cell during the three days of her incarceration.
“She couldn’t bring anything into or out of the cell, so why do they need to strip-search her twice a day? It makes no sense at all,” he said.
Weinstein also said that while the jail may have a worthy policy regarding searches, mistreatment of inmates is covered up by a “code of silence” among guards.
York and Knox counties each paid out more than $3 million to hundreds of former inmates to settle class-action lawsuits centered on strip-search policies.