The Strip Search of April 26-27, 1994
As Madam Justice Arbour found, the law is quite clear that men may not
strip-search women. The only exception is where a delay in locating women
staff to conduct the search would be dangerous to human life or safety
or might result in the loss of evidence. The decision to deploy a male
emergency response team to strip-search the women in segregation at the
P4W was made following a recommendation of Correctional Supervisor Warnell:
Given the fragile psyche of the officers at the institution
at this time, I strongly recommend that an IERT cell extraction team be
brought in and all inmates in the dissociation side be taken from their
cells, strip searched and placed in strip cells. I do not feel that our
officers should have to continue to suffer this type of abuse when we
have the means to put a stop to it. Otherwise, I fear that we will have
more staff requesting stress leaves and a diminished credibility toward
management. (Arbour at 65)
The warden concurred with that recommendation and did not consider negotiating
with the prisoners prior to the deployment of the team. Neither were the
prisoners advised that the team would be put into action if they did not
stop their disruptive activities. The manner in which the IERT subsequently
carried out its mandate is captured on the videotape of the exercise.
Prior to the video being turned on, the IERT marched
into the Segregation Unit in standard formation, approached Joey Twinsí
cell and banged on the bars of her cell with the shield. She immediately
did as she was ordered, and when the video begins she is lying face down
in her cell surrounded by IERT members who are holding her down. An officer
now identified as a female member of the Prison for Women staff, cuts
off Ms. Twinsí clothing with the 911 tool [a curved knife], while IERT
members hold her down. The extent to which they are assisting the female
officer in the actual cutting and removal of the clothes is difficult
to tell from the tape. Ms. Twinsí hands are cuffed behind her back and
her legs shackled. She is marched backwards out of her cell naked, and
led to the corner of the range. There she is held against the wall with
the clear plastic shield, with her back against the wall. Some IERT members
stand around her while the IPSO, Mr. Waller, and maintenance men from
the prison enter the Segregation Unit to begin stripping Ms. Twinsí cell.
The corner where Ms. Twins is standing is visible to anyone in the unit
or standing in the doorway separating the dissociation side from the protective
custody side of the Segregation Unit . . . The warden and deputy warden
were not in the dissociation side during the strip searches.
While she is still being held in the corner, a paper
gown is brought to Ms. Twins and tied around her neck. The effect is something
like that of a bib. The paper gown neither covers her, nor provides warmth.
Upon her return to the cell, an IERT member begins
the extremely lengthy process of attempting to apply a body belt in substitution
of her handcuffs, during which procedure her gown comes off . . .
Finally, this lengthy procedure is completed and
she is left lying on the floor of her cell in restraints -- body belt
and leg irons, and with a small paper gown . . .
The video and the evidence reveal that the cell extraction
and strip search of the remaining inmates was substantially similar to
those of Ms. Twinsí, with certain exceptions.
. . . The video shows the last inmate who was strip
searched, Brenda Morrison, with her clothes on when the IERT enter the
cell. In response to their order for her to kneel and remove her clothing,
she asks questions about what will happen if she does not remove them.
The questions are not answered. Rather, restraint equipment is applied
over her clothing, at which point she offers to take her clothes off.
They direct her to lie face down. She does not immediately do so and they
force her to the ground. Three IERT members hold her down and rip and
then cut her shirt open at the back while the female correctional officer
cuts her pants off. (Arbour at 71-73)
The graphic depiction of these events is supplemented in the report
by Ms. Morrisonís testimony.
I felt very degraded and pissed off. I donít know
-- I donít know how anybody can do that to somebody and live with themselves.
How they can walk in there, rip my clothes and say "Itís okay, I was doing
my job; it was professional." Maybe if the tables were turned they wouldnít
think so, but the tables arenít. I donít know how any man can do that
to any woman and say it was their job. As far as I know, itís a crime.
A crime was committed there. And if something like that happened down
the street, thatís a crime. If you go in an apartment and rip girlsí clothes
off, thatís a crime. Thatís sexual assault . . .
If somebody can stand here and tell me, look me in
the eyes and tell me thatís right, I ask myself: where is justice? What
about justice inside the institution? Is there any for us inside? We must
not, because we are criminals.
The report continues with its summary
of events as depicted on the videotape.
Throughout the strip searches, there is a fairly
constant level of talking and calling in the Segregation Unit. Inmates
are heard to call out their requests that the windows be closed. These
had been opened prior to the IERT attendance to clear out the remaining
smoke from the earlier fires. Although the smoke had already cleared when
the operation began at 11:40 p.m., the windows were left open until after
2 in the morning, notwithstanding the fact that the temperature was between
11 and 12 degrees. Other requests, for tampax, medication, eye glasses,
are called out, as are comments which were interpreted by some who were
present in the unit to be flirtatious, joking or defiant in nature. Some
called out that they were being raped. In addition, questions about what
was happening and about whether the IERT were all male were directed to
IERT members. Some expressed their fear at the memory of previous sexual
assaults. Consistent with IERT training, questions and requests were not
answered . . .
There was no security reason not to give the women
more appropriate gowns for covering themselves immediately after the strip
search. Nor was there a security or any other reason offered for leaving
the windows open for almost three hours after the smoke in the unit had
At the end of the procedure, pursuant to the wardenís
instructions, the women were left on the cement floor of their cells in
body belts, leg irons, paper gowns, and with nothing else. The bolted
beds had been removed from the cells and there was nothing left but a
sink and a toilet. They remained in that condition until the early afternoon
of the following day when each was given one security blanket. While there
was some attempt to suggest that this state of affairs was due to security
concerns, no plausible explanation was offered for keeping the women in
leg irons and depriving them of any means of keeping warm. (Arbour at
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