Portsmouth, VA – Attorneys for the ACLU of Virginia filed legal papers today asking the federal court in Norfolk to compel Portsmouth Sheriff Bill Watson to allow six women who filed lawsuits against him to return to work.
After learning that the ACLU and nine women who provided health and food services to the jail through a private contractor had filed a lawsuit over illegal strip searches, jail officials told the six women who still worked at the Portsmouth facility not to return.
According to Virginian-Pilot columnist Kerry Dougherty, “Watson told me Tuesday that everyone who works for him is liable to be strip-searched. It's all part of his effort to ‘maintain the integrity of the jail.’”
The Virginian-Pilot also reports Watson as saying, “If anybody doesn't like the policy, look for a new job."
In their request for a temporary restraining order against the sheriff, ACLU attorneys say the employees have a First Amendment right to file a lawsuit and may not be removed from work for doing so.
“The sheriff is only compounding his problems by preventing the employees from returning to work,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “We hope the court will act swiftly to allow these six women to continue to do their jobs without harassment from jail officials.”
According to complaints filed last Friday in the federal court in Norfolk, Portsmouth Sheriff Bill Watson ordered the strip searches in late April 2011 as part of an ongoing investigation of drugs being brought into the jail. At the time, each of the workers was an employee of Correct Care Solutions or Aramark Correctional Facility Food Service, private companies that supply health and food services to the jail.
Before being allowed into the jail on the day of the searches, each woman was required to remove her outer and under garments and be subjected to a visual search of her cavities. All were told that if they did not consent to the search they would be forced to leave the premises and their clearance to access the jail would be revoked.
Representing the nine women are ACLU cooperating attorneys David Morgan and Daniel Trimmer from Cravens & Noll, P.C. in Richmond, ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg, and ACLU of Virginia Dunn Fellow Thomas Okuda Fitzpatrick.
A copy of one of the nine complaints filed in court Friday may be found at https://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/20120427Complaint-NanVollette.pdf.
Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Director, 804-644-8022