CA5: Ptf’s manual strip and body search in prison for a missing syringe was reasonable

Plaintiff’s manual strip and body search in prison for a missing syringe was reasonable. Parker v. Woods, 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 36359 (5th Cir. Nov. 19, 2020):

Considering these principles, we find no error in the district court’s conclusion that the search here was reasonable. We note at the outset that Parker does not contest that the search was justified by the prison’s need to find the missing syringe. There is little doubt that it was. The Supreme Court has squarely recognized that prison officials have a “serious responsibility” to make sure inmates do not conceal such potentially lethal items on, or in, their bodies. Florence, 566 U.S. at 332; see also id. (“Correctional officers have had to confront arrestees concealing knives, scissors, razor blades, glass shards, and other prohibited items on their person, including in their body cavities.”); Bell, 441 U.S. at 559 (observing that “[a] detention facility is a unique place fraught with serious security dangers,” including “[smuggling of money, drugs, weapons, and other contraband … by concealing them in body cavities”). Furthermore, Parker’s search was conducted in private and by an officer of the same sex. No officers of the opposite sex were present. Cf. Moore, 168 F.3d at 237. Moreover, nothing suggests that the search was unduly lengthy. Parker himself does not dispute that the search lasted for only about three minutes.

All we are left with, then, is Parker’s reliance on evidence that Deputy Woods manually spread his buttocks and “smiled” at his exposed genitals. We cannot conclude that this evidence, standing alone, raises a material dispute as to whether the search was unreasonable. Even viewing the evidence most favorably to Parker, the touching involved was incident to a legitimate body cavity search. And, as explained, the search was a valid means of finding potentially lethal contraband that had gone missing. Parker himself does not contest the need for the search and does not argue the search was unduly prolonged. See, e.g., Moore, 168 F.3d at 237 (in evaluating reasonableness of prisoner search, courts “‘must consider the scope of the particular intrusion, the manner in which it is conducted, the justification for initiating it, and the place in which it is conducted'”) (quoting Bell, 441 U.S. at 559). Given the “great deference and flexibility” courts must afford prison officials in maintaining institutional security, Elliot, 38 F.3d at 191, we cannot say that the physical touching involved here renders the search unconstitutional.

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