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NYC to pay $33M settlement in strip-search suit

The city has agreed to pay $33 million to as many as 100,000 people who say they were strip-searched illegally after being arrested on such minor offenses as turnstile jumping.

In the settlement announced Monday by lawyers on both sides, payments of as much as $2,900 will go to individuals who said they were forced to undress in groups before guards in city jails and expose their body cavities to inspection.

According to a 2002 class-action lawsuit filed in federal court in Manhattan, the searches were conducted at city jails from 1999 to 2007 on people charged with fare evasion, shoplifting, trespassing and failure to pay child support.

A few women also claimed in the suit that they were forced to undergo invasive body searches. Their cases are also part of the settlement.

"I think it is a fair resolution to a long-term human rights violation the city was perpetrating on unsuspecting defendants," Richard Emery, the attorney representing the claimants, told Newsday.

Emery said that city officials have never disclosed finding contraband on any of the minor offense defendants subjected to the searches. But a spokeswoman for the city said contraband and weapons had been taken from people in the class covered by the settlement.

The city admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement.

"The City of New York and its Department of Correction have worked diligently to ensure that both safety and privacy are given high consideration during [jail] intake search procedures," said Genevieve Nelson, an attorney with the city Corporation Counsel office. "The settlement reached today is the final step in a process during which DOC's intake search procedures were modified in 2007."

Emery said that while 100,000 people are believed to be covered by the agreement, he expected that only around 15,000 will ultimately formally file papers.

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