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Man drops strip-search claim

A St. Croix County man has apparently learned it's a good idea to wear underwear if you're risking arrest.

He also has a better understanding of what "strip search" means, and he won't be getting the $25,000 he wanted as compensation for embarrassment and humiliation.

At the request of the parties, Dunn County Judge Rod Smeltzer dismissed a lawsuit filed in May 2008 by Todd R. Bottolfson, 30, New Richmond, against St. Croix County and its insurance company.

"This case was just voluntarily dismissed by the plaintiff," said Corporation Counsel Greg Timmerman Thursday. He said neither the county nor its insurance company paid anything to settle the case.

During a deposition taken last November, Bottolfson, who was arrested Jan. 21, 2006, for drunk driving, said he had been wearing wool pants, white bibs, wind pants, boots, socks, a T-shirt and a sweatshirt but no underwear.

While being booked at the St. Croix County Jail in Hudson, he was taken into a small room by two male officers. They had him remove his boots, wool pants and white bibs. Then they asked him to change into jail-issue pants because the wind pants had an elastic waistband.

Bottolfson claimed that although one of the officers immediately left the room, closing the door as he went, a couple of female deputies in the hall may have seen him undressed.

In his claim against the county, Bottolfson asked for $25,000 to compensate him for violation of his rights and for embarrassment and humiliation.

In a December 2008 affidavit, the officer who searched Bottolfson, Lt. Gary Simacek, said he performed a "pat-down search" and not a "strip search."

"The incidental viewing of Bottolfson because he was not wearing underwear cannot transform 'a change of pants' into a 'strip search' in violation of St. Croix policy," argued Raymond Pollen, the insurance company's attorney when he asked the judge to dismiss the case.

In his brief, Pollen explained that before a pat-down search, prisoners are asked to remove all items from pockets and to remove excess layers of clothing.

If he had been strip searched, claimed the lawyer, Bottolfson would have been taken into an enclosed room and asked to remove all his clothing. Then an officer would have examined his ears, mouth, nose, armpits, arms, hands, torso and private areas, using a flashlight if necessary.

"Even if other officers were outside of the room, there is no evidence that any of them even witnessed the changing of clothes," claimed Pollen.

During testimony taken Nov. 17, 2008, Bottolfson was asked what he meant when he said he'd been humiliated during the search.

"I had to take my clothes off in front of four strangers for no reason," he replied.

He said he believed a suspect shouldn't be required to remove clothing unless he has been arrested on a weapons or drug charge.

"The whole incident made me unhappy about it," he said.

When asked if the incident had impacted his life in a negative way, he replied, "Not really."

In 2003 St. Croix County and its insurance company agreed to pay nearly $7 million to settle a class action suit involving about 2,000 people who were improperly strip searched at the county jail from 1996 to early 2001.