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A federal judge on Monday terminated a decree that limited strip searches of inmates at the Salt Lake County jail, ruling that the agreement is no longer necessary because it has been incorporated into county policy.
U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins also said civil rights attorneys have produced no examples of a current violation of the federal constitutional rights of inmates, "and more significantly, have not even alleged any facts which, if true, would amount to a current and ongoing violation" involving strip searches.
The ruling comes almost three decades after a 26-year-old National Enquirer reporter was cited for allegedly making an improper turn near Salt Lake City International Airport. Judith Regan - who recently dropped plans to publish a controversial book by O.J. Simpson - was booked into jail after she refused to sign a traffic citation on Nov. 13, 1979, promising she would later appear in court.
Regan remained fully clothed but said she was subjected to a breast and vaginal search through her opened clothing.
Three attorneys - including a little-known lawyer named Ross "Rocky" Anderson, now serving his second term as Salt Lake City mayor - filed a class-action lawsuit in 1980 on behalf of Regan and other prisoners who had been strip searched.
That suit resulted in a consent decree approved by Jenkins that allows county jailers to strip search inmates at initial bookings only if officers have probable cause to believe they are carrying a weapon or contraband. The lawsuit also prompted Salt Lake City to drop its requirement that motorists sign traffic tickets for minor violations.
On Monday, Karen McCreary, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, the organization that filed the suit, applauded the changes it brought years ago in jail policy.
"The court recognized that the county now has appropriate procedures so this type of outrageous behavior doesn't happen again," she said.
Regan now is head of ReganBooks, a division of HarperCollins Publishers in New York City, and was planning this fall to release If I Did It, a book by O.J. Simpson that outlined hypothetically how the former football star would have carried out the 1994 slayings of his ex-wife and her friend. Public outrage led to the cancellation of the book and a TV special in which Regan was to interview Simpson, who was acquitted of murder in 1995 but later found liable for the deaths in a civil trial on a wrongful death lawsuit.