BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) — A lawsuit against the Beaufort County Detention Center that started with just two women could soon grow by hundreds, possibly even thousands.
Cheryl Munday and Margaret Devine each say they were humiliated after their arrests for DUI, not just because they were picked up by highway patrol, but because of what happened after, inside the jail.
In their lawsuit first filed in Beaufort County court, each woman details what they call “degrading and unnecessary body cavity searches” by jail officers
The lawsuit filed against the Beaufort County Detention Center leaders and unnamed guards from the jail is based on practices inside the jail from 2015 to 2020.
Munday says as she was being booked in 2018 one of the officers told her “you look great.” Then she was told she was subject to a strip search, visual body cavity search, and full body pat down.
She says during that search a jail officer “grabbed her crotch with great force,” assaulted her, and fondled her. She was also “required to bend over and manually spread her buttocks.”
Munday remembers the guard, who was female, telling her “this facility does not condone rape.” Munday writes in the suit “the whole time I was thinking this feels a lot like rape to me.”
All this time the suit claims the door to the room she was in “remained open so that any passerby could peer in” and see her naked.
Munday claims treatment was far from equal. The suit claims after her search she watched a male detainee only get patted “from the knees down.” Guards “did not search his groin or buttocks”.
No body cavity search.
She adds that the man she saw was handed jail clothes and allowed to change in another room.
Devine says after her arrest she was taken to a shower stall and required to remove her clothes. The shower stall was in “so that passers-by were able to see in.”
When she was nude, Devine claims she had to “turn around, face a wall and bend over from the waist so that her backside and genitalia were fully exposed.” Then she was ordered to cough.
The guards then ordered her to take a shower while they watched. Then told to “cough louder and harder,” and then forced to shower again “making sure to wet her hair completely” the second time.
The county has changed policy as of 2020 to make sure both sexes are equally treated. They made this comment about the suit.
“The presence of contraband in the Beaufort County Detention Center poses not just a risk not only to our inmates but to our detention officers. This lawsuit we will address accordingly,” said Chris Ophardt, Beaufort County PIO.
Robert Metro, of Bauer and Metro law firm in Bluffton and Hilton Head, who is representing the women, in this case, says the county’s numbers don’t back up its claims.
He quotes the Detention Center’s own “Year End Reports for Beaufort County Detention Center” that in 2010-12 and 2015 that “Defendant conducted 18,402 “shakedowns” of inmates’ cells prior to adoption of the strip-search practice at issue this case – even using K-9 drug dogs on a regular basis – and found no serious contraband.”
The DUI charges against Munday and Devine were eventually dropped.
Metro has now gotten this suit certified as a class action lawsuit in federal court. That means any woman who felt they were violated in jail during that period from 2015 to 2020 can join the suit.
Metro tells News 3 that number could be anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 women who were booked through the system in that time.
Already he adds that several other women have signed on to the case. They could each be in line for monetary damages if there is a settlement or a Judge rules in favor of their lawsuit.