Woman sues jail over strip search

Posted Feb. 03, 2009, at 9:26 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 10:43 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A local woman who claims she was illegally strip-searched a year ago at the Penobscot County Jail has sued Penobscot County and Sheriff Glenn Ross in U.S. District Court in Bangor.

Tina Oxley, 35, claims she should not have been strip-searched because she was arrested for operating a motor vehicle after license suspension. There was no suspicion that she was concealing drugs, weapons or evidence of a crime, the complaint says. Under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, such suspicion is required before a person can be strip-searched, according to the complaint.

In their answer to the complaint filed Friday, the county, Ross and other defendants say Oxley was taken to the jail by Bangor police Jan. 19, 2007, and pat-searched. Peter Marchesi, the defendant’s Waterville attorney, denies that Oxley was strip-searched.

Oxley also has sued the two female corrections officers that she claims conducted the search. They are referred to in the complaint as Jane Doe 1 and 2. She also claims Ross failed to properly train corrections officers in strip-search procedures. Oxley alleges in the complaint that the sheriff allows strip-searches in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Oxley’s lawsuit is not seeking class action status. Within the last three years, York and Knox counties have settled large class action lawsuits over strip searches. Damages totaling $3 million in each of those cases were awarded to plaintiffs who could show they had been strip-searched illegally.

Ross on Monday referred questions about the lawsuit to Marchesi, but said the facts outlined in the case may not be entirely accurate.

Oxley’s attorney, Dale Thistle of Newport, filed the lawsuit on Jan. 16. A jury trial has been set for Nov. 3.

The young lady has been severely harmed emotionally by what happened at the jail, Thistle said Tuesday.

Oxley, who has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because of her experience, according to the complaint, is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. She claims in the lawsuit she is seeing a psychiatrist and therapist weekly and lives in fear of being arrested and strip-searched again.

The lawsuit alleges that a Bangor police officer stopped Oxley on Jan. 19, 2007, on Otis Street in Bangor. According to the complaint, the officer told her she had been pulled over for speeding, but later told her she had been stopped because the officer believed a man police were looking for was in Oxley’s car. He was not, ac-cording to the complaint.

Oxley was arrested for operating a motor vehicle after license suspension and taken to the jail where she was first patted down while clothed by two female corrections officers and later strip-searched, according to the complaint.

In the lawsuit, Oxley claims she pleaded with officers not to strip-search her and told them that not even her boyfriend had seen her naked.

In an unrelated incident, Oxley was summoned last week for drug possession after a Maine state trooper pulled her over because he saw something dangling from her car’s rearview mirror, partly obstructing her view, according to an article previously published in the Bangor Daily News.

Oxley was summoned after the trooper allegedly found a dinner plate under the driver’s seat bearing traces of a powder that tested positive for cocaine. She was not taken into custody. The trooper searched Oxley’s car, according to the BDN, because her passenger, Wayne Quimby, 42, was on probation and subject to searches.

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