WATERTOWN — Jefferson County has agreed to settle a legal case regarding treatment of new inmates at the county jail.
In the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Albany in 2017, the plaintiff Brad Nourse alleged that he was mistreated when he was taken into custody at the Metro-Jefferson Public Safety Building.
Mr. Nourse was arrested on a bench warrant after missing a court date in the town of LeRay regarding a charge of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. According to the complaint, when he was taken into custody at the jail, he was taken to a side room and immediately ordered to strip in front of a corrections officer.
Court documents state that Mr. Nourse was ordered to bend over and allow the officer to visually inspect the outside of his anus and then manipulate his genitals to allow the officer to visually inspect that region as well.
As this inspection was occurring, the complaint states that Mr. Nourse had a friend on the way to the jail to post his $500 bail. Mr. Nourse allegedly asked the officer not to conduct the strip search because it was unlikely he would be sent into the jail’s general population, but the request was declined.
The complaint alleges that the strip search was unlawful, as it subjected new inmates to undue emotional trauma for what he says is no clear reason. The complaint argues that there’s no need to strip search new inmates who will be able to post bail in a reasonable time, and the Jefferson County jail has the space required to keep newly admitted inmates separated from the general population for a short time without searching them.
According to court documents, Mr. Nourse attempted to make this a class-action lawsuit, arguing that there are hundreds of people who were similarly wronged by the county jail. That request was denied, but the case regarding Mr. Nourse individually was permitted to move forward.
Jefferson County Attorney David J. Paulsen said arguments were scheduled for April 12, but on April 9, Mr. Nourse’s attorneys reached out and requested a settlement of $10,000. Mr. Paulsen said after his team negotiated, that total was brought down to $7,500.
On Tuesday night, the county Board of Legislators Finance and Rules Committee agreed to settle the dispute for a total of $7,500. Mr. Paulsen told legislators at Tuesday’s meeting that total is about equal the county would have to pay in legal fees to fight the suit in court. Settling also assures the case will be closed.
“It saves us the risk of an unexpected outcome,” Mr. Paulsen said. “We certainly believe the facts are in our favor, but one never knows when you’re taking something to trial and leaving it up to someone else.”
Additionally, settling the suit ensures the case cannot be appealed to a higher court, wherein the county would incur further costs.
As the total cost for the settlement is under $10,000, the full board did not need to vote on the agreement, but the Finance and Rules Committee did need to express favor for the measure.
Committee Chairman Michael Montigelli, R-Black River, asked for a showing of hands, and all eight members of the committee approved the expense.