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Portsmouth Sheriff defends jail strip search policies

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Posted at 7:01 PM, May 01, 2012
and last updated 2012-05-01 23:50:56-04

Nine current and former Portsmouth City Jail contractors are filing more lawsuits against Sheriff Bill Watson.

The women already claimed they were subject to illegal strip and body cavity searches at work. Now they say their 1st amendment rights have also been violated after their security clearances were revoked for speaking out.

Tuesday, the Sheriff himself spoke with NewsChannel 3's Laurie Simmons about the allegations.

“If you can't play by the rules here, you’re not coming in our jail,” says Watson, who tells NewsChannel 3 strip searches have been a long standing department policy. “If we have probable cause that something is coming in, we have every right to strip search.”

When he found out he was being sued by the ACLU about it, “I thought it was the biggest bunch of crap in my life. I’m trying to do my job, protect people, and now they are trying to sue me for it,” says Watson.

According to the lawsuit, nine women, all who have worked as medical or cleaning contractors for the jail, say they were forced to strip down in front of female deputies and were subjected to a visual body cavity search.

“There is no body cavity search. They are blowing it way out of proportion,” says Sheriff Watson. “The strip search is only down to your underwear. I’m not trying to be sexist, but women can hide something in their bra,” says Watson.

Watson says it’s even in the contract that these nine women had to sign to be able to work at the jail, as well as posted above every door in the building that you are subject to a search at any time.

“There are murderers, rapists, serial killers, very bad people over here and I have to maintain the integrity of this jail. If that means a strip search, so be it. If you don’t like it, there is the door,” says Watson.