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Ten men have filed a $10 million federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Oakland in the latest complaint to accuse police officers of conducting invasive and illegal strip searches of them in public.
Police officers pulled down the men's pants and exposed their genitalia or buttocks on the street during incidents from 2003 to 2007, the plaintiffs said in the suit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
The searches occurred in public throughout the city, including in West and East Oakland and in the city's Temescal neighborhood, according to the suit.
"Plaintiffs suffered severe and extreme emotional distress, fear, terror, anxiety, humiliation and loss of their sense of security, dignity and pride as United States citizens," said the suit, filed by Oakland attorneys John Burris and Michael Haddad, who have now filed seven similar lawsuits on behalf of about 30 men.
"This is pretty shocking and disgusting behavior," Burris said Thursday.
Alex Katz, spokesman for Oakland City Attorney John Russo, declined to comment Thursday, saying city officials had not had a chance to review the complaint.
Named as plaintiffs are John Smith, Robert Davis, Meheret Aneteneh, Kirby Bradshaw, Spencer Lucas, Jamel Parrish, Yusef Morris, Elbert Owens, Raheem Hill and Sherman Dunn.
"It's an ongoing problem for the community as well as the Oakland Police Department," Haddad said of the searches. "They haven't really put any remedy in place, and that's what we're trying to force them to do."
Haddad said careful "pat down" searches are allowable on the street, while more invasive searches can be done at the jail.
The department formerly allowed officers to publicly strip-search people being arrested for drugs or weapons violations even if there was no suspicion they were concealing something, Haddad said.
But the department amended the policy in 2004, allowing officers to strip-search suspects only if there was a reasonable suspicion that they were hiding something - such as drugs - or would destroy or ingest it unless it was immediately recovered.
Burris and Haddad said they believe the new policy is unconstitutional.
Five of the suits have been consolidated before U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel in San Francisco, who is also expected to hear the two newer complaints, Burris said.
In court papers filed this year in response to some of the earlier suits, Deputy City Attorney Kandis Westmore wrote that the Police Department's strip-search policy does not violate the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches.
The city's policy amended in 2004 reflects "a conscious effort to prevent any even constitutionally-questionable searches from taking place," Westmore wrote, adding that the city disagreed with assertions by the plaintiffs that any strip-search in the field was automatically unconstitutional.