Police Abuse

Alameda County Sheriff Sued for Forcing Women To Take Pregnancy Tests

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The Alameda County Sheriff's Department has a policy of requiring that every woman under 60 taken into custody submit to a pregnancy test. This, argue some wome who were forced to pee on a stick, is a violation of their privacy, and they're working with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to put an end to the practice.

While the protocol is intended to provide the arrestees with necessary medical care, it doesn't seem to work that way in practice. One plaintiff, Nancy Macias, who was detained during a political protest in 2012, said that "being forced to submit a pregnancy test against my will was not about my health. It was invasive, offensive, and humiliating." KTVU reports that "while [Macias] was forced to undergo a pregnancy test, she also told authorities she was diabetic and needed insulin. In her part of the suit, she claims her request for medication was ignored" and "she agreed to take the test only after she was threatened with transfer to Santa Rita jail."

"I was intimidated and bullied by the female officer who was processing me. I felt completely violated. We don't want other women to go through this," one of the plaintiffs who remains unnamed told the Oakland Tribune.

The San Francisco Chronicle shares the sheriff's side of the story:

On Monday, Sgt. J.D. Nelson, a sheriff's spokesman… said [the departmen] had been sued in the past for not conducting pregnancy tests. Nelson said the office settled the suit, at least a decade ago, by making the tests mandatory. He did not have further details on the case or the opposing parties.

"If you tell us that we have to test people and then tell us that we can't test people, what can we do?" he asked.

The ACLU's answer is that the tests should be voluntary, because compulsory testing impinges upon the arrestees' Fourth Amendment rights. The lawsuit, which they filed on Monday, explains:

the test violates arrestees' right to privacy" and "constitutes an unlawful search and seizure under the state and federal constitutions; and it violates… the California Code of Regulations, which requires jails to allow mentally competent inmates to refuse non-emergency medical care and mandates that all examinations, treatments and procedures conducted in jail accord with the same informed-consent standards that apply outside of jail.

"As far as we know, Alameda County is the only county in the state that is doing this," Elizabeth Gill, a senior staffer with the ACLU of Northern California told the Associated Press, which also reports that "the organization has corresponded with the sheriff's office about the issue for several years."