TRUMBULL COUNTY Cleveland law firm considers taking police strip-search cases



Conducting an illegal strip-search carries jail time and a fine.
By PEGGY SINKOVICH
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- A Cleveland law firm may soon be reviewing allegations that city police officers performed illegal strip-searches, the city law director says.
Law Director Greg Hicks said he contacted the firm two weeks ago.
"I believe this is something they will do, but until they formally agree I don't want to release the name of the firm," Hicks said. "They did ask me to send a brief synopsis of each case and I did that. I will contact them this week and hopefully have an answer."
Four cases
The law director said he is asking the firm to review four strip-search cases and determine whether any criminal charges should be filed against the police officers.
Courts have determined that conducting an illegal strip-search is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. It is also a fourth-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $250 fine, for performing a strip-search and not writing a report.
"There were some others that we had civil lawsuits on but the statue of limitations on those cases has expired," Hicks said.
State law says misdemeanor charges must be filed within two years.
The law director said he wanted to wait until all the civil lawsuits relating to alleged illegal strip-searches were settled before he sought the independent review.
The last lawsuit dealing with the strip-search allegations was settled earlier this month.
The city has spent $115,000 in the past year to settle lawsuits in which police were accused of illegally strip-searching suspects.
Police Chief John Mandopoulos says he doesn't think the police officers had criminal intent when they were performing the strip-searches.
Strict guidelines
In March 2003, Mandopoulos implemented a new departmental policy, with strict guidelines on strip-searches. The new guidelines, written by city police and law department officials, require doctors to be present during the most invasive searches.
In July 2003, The Vindicator reported that one officer admitted routinely conducting body-cavity searches and strip-searches on male suspects even in minor crimes, says an internal police investigation. That investigation was started because of a citizen's complaint, police officials said.
sinkovich@vindy.com

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