Jury sides with Portsmouth sheriff in jail strip search case

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by Philip Townsend, 13News

WVEC.com

Posted on April 23, 2013 at 2:05 PM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 24 at 5:36 PM

NORFOLK -- A federal jury Wednesday decided Portsmouth Sheriff Bill Watson won't have to pay damages to several women who sued him over strip searches.

That decision just came down in the civil trial where jurors were asked to decide whether Watson violated workers' rights.  Nine women filed suit over the strip search he ordered at the Portsmouth jail in 2011.

Before jurors hearing the civil case went into deliberations Tuesday afternoon, attorneys for both sides spent about three hours in closing arguments, reviewing testimony and the facts of the case.

"It's in your hands," said attorney David Morgan. "You know what's right."

Morgan represented the women.

The women were contract workers, most of them nurses, were among those searched after authorities were tipped that contraband was being brought into the jail.

The defense argued that the strip search was the only way for Sheriff Watson to ensure drugs, cigarettes and cell phones, weren't getting into the jail.

They also say the plaintiffs signed a consent form and were never forced to be strip searched. However, the women say they feared losing their jobs if they didn't submit.

Court records show the jury found support two complaints filed by two of the nine plaintiffs, but the jury said he those didn't carry fines.

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