Colorado to pay $1 million in strip search lawsuit involving intellectually disabled

The Colorado Department of Human Services will pay $1 million to settle a lawsuit that contended the rights of intellectually disabled residents of a state-run center in Pueblo were violated when officials strip-searched them to determine whether they were abused.

The March 2015 strip-searches of 62 residents at the Pueblo Regional Center for the severely intellectually disabled “resulted in disregard of individual rights including privacy, dignity and respect,” the state’s public health department determined after it investigated civil rights complaints filed by guardians.

The lawsuit alleged that the searches were nonconsensual, violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights and unlawfully discriminated against them. The Colorado Department of Human Services denied any wrongdoing as part of the settlement and maintained that the examinations were conducted in the interest of protecting the safety of the residents.

Some of the residents who were strip-searched had been sexually abused in the past. During the searches, some were disrobed and their genitals and buttocks were physically inspected.

The $1 million settlement includes attorney’s fees and costs and money that will be divided among about 20 plaintiffs. Nominal amounts also will be paid to several guardians and family members of the residents, who also had contended they should have been contacted before the searches occurred.

“The amount of the settlement obviously acknowledges the gravity of the issues,” said Mari Newman, a civil rights lawyer in Denver who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the residents.

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