Colorado Strip Search Lawsuit Settled

 

By Lynn Fugaro, Staff Writer

Some stories in the news are just so disturbing, you don’t want to believe they’re true. This is one of those stories. In March 2015, a division director of the Colorado Department of Health and Human Services, Tracy Myszak, ordered several subordinate employees of the Colorado Department of Human Services to storm into the Pueblo Regional Center “without notice and conduct warrantless, nonconsensual strip searches of most or all of the residents, including hands-on genital contact in many cases…”

The victims of the illegal strip searches were developmentally disabled people of various ages who were not able to cognitively grasp the injustice that was taking place. At the time of this horrifying illegal search, DHS officials said they were concerned there had been incidents of abuse against the patients at the Center, but they eventually admitted to investigators that no one made any effort to contact the families or guardians of the residents to get permission to search their bodies.

What makes this even more disturbing is that even if the victims of this illegal search had been given the opportunity to consent or refuse the illegal searches, most of them were legally incompetent to consent due to their disabilities, and none of their legal guardians were asked to give consent to the searches.

Staff Culpability?

How culpable were the employees at the Pueblo Regional Center? According to reports, the staff at the center protested the search of the patients without guardian consent but was told by Department of Health and Human Services officials that the strip searches were mandatory and had to be executed immediately. Staff members at the Center were merely following direct orders from a government agency.
Of the sixty residents illegally searched, most were developmentally disabled residents, and according to a lawsuit filed the searches even included genital contact and manipulation; many of the victims of the illegal searches at the Pueblo Regional Center had suffered some form of physical or sexual abuse in their past.

Settlement Reached

Colorado state officials have reached a $1 million settlement with the families of twenty of the developmentally disabled patients who were strip-searched without permission in March 2015. Along with the financial payment, the settlement also calls for the Colorado Department of Human Services to adopt a list of reforms including new training for staff incident reporting rules, regular meetings with patient families and increases in pay for staff at the Pueblo Regional Center.

Over 25 individuals were named in the lawsuit and one agency, the Colorado Department of Human Services. The $1 million settlement was reached with twenty families of the victims.

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