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Regan v. County of Salt Lake (2006)

11 December 2006 Published in Resolved Cases

Fourth Amendment - In 1982, ACLU cooperating attorneys Bob Anderson, Rocky Anderson, and Wayne McCormack filed an action against the Salt Lake County Jail for Fourth Amendment violations. In the original case, law enforcement officers pulled over Judith Regan, an out-of-state reporter, for a traffic violation. Regan refused to sign the ticket because it required a statement that she would appear in court within a specific time frame, and she knew she would no longer be in Salt Lake City at that time. She was then handcuffed and eventually strip searched by county law enforcement, in violation of her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

As a result of the action, a consent decree was entered into that restricted the circumstances under which the Salt Lake County Jail could constitutionally conduct strip searches. In November 2004, the county asked the Federal District Court to terminate the consent decree, claiming that there are no current constitutional violations and that current search procedures at the jail meet constitutional standards. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, passed by Congress in 1996, consent decrees that exceed constitutional standards may be terminated in appropriate cases.

On November 30, 2004, the ACLU of Utah and cooperating attorney Bob Anderson filed a memorandum opposing Salt Lake County’s motion in which we requested that the consent decree not be terminated until the plaintiffs had a chance to review search procedures at the jail. We also filed a motion asking the court to appoint an expert to review jail procedures and complaints. If a review revealed that there were no violations of federal rights at the Salt Lake County Jail, and if current policy passed constitutional muster, then we argued that termination of the consent decree may be reasonable.

At a December 20, 2004 hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Bruce S. Jenkins refused to consider Salt Lake County’s motion to terminate the consent decree because it had submitted only a draft revision of its strip search policy. On January 12, 2005, Salt Lake County refiled its motion to terminate the consent decree, after having revised and finalized its policy. On February 11, 2005, we filed a second motion opposing termination. On October 18, 2005, the court requested that the county supplement the record, identifying with specificity how its current policy incorporated the substance of the consent decree. 

After reviewing the supplemental briefing and the record, the court issued a ruling on December 11, 2006, granting Salt Lake County’s request to terminate the consent decree. The court was satisfied that Salt Lake County’s policy “incorporates in substance the requirements of the Consent Decree,” making the decree no longer necessary. The court also noted that the decree was no longer necessary because there was no evidence of current and ongoing constitutional violations of detainees’ federal rights.