By Rodney Foo January 24, 2001, Wednesday Copyright 2001 Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service San Jose Mercury News January 24, 2001, Wednesday
(SAN JOSE, Calif.) -- A federal jury awarded $25,500 to a man who sued San Jose police, saying officers subjected him to a strip search that violated departmental policy as well as his constitutional protections against unreasonable searches.
As a result, the police department says it will re-examine the policies that where challenged in Bill Chesney's lawsuit.
"Basically, we'll look at it and see if there is something procedural or if we should do something in a different way," said Tom Wheatley, assistant chief.
The award was handed down Monday in U.S. District Court in San Jose by a jury that expressed concerns about the potentially incriminating nature of the mandatory medical information sheets that each arrestee must answer before being booked as well as the department's strip search policy, said Chesney's attorney, Anthony Boskovich.
The decision, Boskovich said, "just reaffirms my faith in the jury system. This jury took the time to look at the facts. They were troubled by what they had seen and they had the courage to do something about it."
It has not been determined yet if the city will be liable for Chesney's attorney's fees.
Chesney's lawsuit was filed in May 1998 and cited three incidents with police in which he was stopped and arrested on drug-related charges during a four-month period. The plaintiff argued that his rights to counsel and to be free of "coercive interrogation" and of unreasonable searches were abridged.
Chesney, who told officers he would say nothing without his attorney by his side, had refused to fill out a pre-booking medical form that asked numerous questions, including if he had taken any drugs recently, Boskovich said.
But City Attorney Rick Doyle said the questions are aimed at getting arrestees medical attention before they are admitted into jail and they are not intended to be used in criminal proceedings.
After another misdemeanor arrest, Chesney was ordered to disrobe for a strip search.
But general orders in the department stipulate that misdemeanor arrestees are not strip searched unless there the case involves weapons, violence, a controlled substance and is reasonable suspicion that the person is concealing a weapon or contraband.
According to Boskovich, one officer testified that the procedure is ignored because contraband is found in 20 percent of the strip searches.
Chesney, 51, is no stranger to controversy with the justice system.
In 1989, he was cited for jaywalking by San Jose police and chose to fight it in court. Although it boiled down to his word against the officer's, the judge entered a guilty verdict. Chesney lost and was ordered to pay a $20 fine, which he refused.
Sixteen times, the court ordered him to appear and pay the fine. But Chesney refused each time, while demanding a jury trial. Each time he was released.
Finally, after three years, Chesney was brought in again, but this time a court commissioner set his bail at $3,000, which Chesney couldn't pay. He was jailed for three days and later brought before another judge who dismissed the case.