2018-09-05 / Front Page

Correctional officers’ right to search inmates

Attorney General Curtis Hill today praised a decision by a federal jury that recognized the right of correctional officers to appropriately search inmates.

On Wednesday, a federal jury in South Bend took only 15 minutes to return a verdict in favor of two Indiana Department of Correction officers in a civil rights lawsuit brought against them by De’Carlos Freeman, an incarcerated felon. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana had permitted an Eighth Amendment claim for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages to proceed against the two IDOC employees.

Freeman, an inmate at the Westville Correctional Facility, alleged that on Sept. 4, 2013, the officers ordered him to remove his underwear while they searched him at a Department of Natural Resources work detail at Dunes Park to which the inmate was assigned. Freeman claimed this search was done for the purpose of harassing and humiliating him. He further claimed the search caused him severe psychological pain.

The correctional officers explained that they searched Freeman because they had received information about alleged contraband at the worksite. The officers denied stripsearching Freeman and stated that any searches they performed were done in compliance with IDOC policy. The officers were represented by Deputy Attorneys General Jill Esenwein and Marley Hancock.

“Law enforcement officers must retain the needed tools to protect the public and preserve secure conditions among inmates,” Attorney General Hill said. “While these officers certainly must follow constitutional guidelines while performing their duties, citizens depend on judges and juries to accurately assess whether complaints are true and valid. Members of this jury in South Bend returned a clear-eyed and correct verdict in this regard. All Hoosiers should appreciate their public service.”

Attorney General Hill also praised the work of the attorneys from his office who handled this case. The office’s Litigation Division has now prevailed in every jury trial in which it has participated since 2017.

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