A federal judge has hinted that he probably will dismiss for a second time a suit brought by a woman who was arrested by Metro police for eating a sandwich on a subway train and then strip-searched and jailed in Arlington for 32 hours.
U.S. District Court Judge Oren R. Lewis hinted at the likely outcome last week when he told attorneys for the woman, District residient Caricia Fisher, that he expected them to appeal his eventual decision.
Fisher, a British-born urban planner who sued Metro for $800,000 in damages after her arrest in December 1979 by the Metro police officer, alleges in the suit that Metro police had shown "reckless disregard of her constitutional rights" in their treatment of her. The eating-on-the subway charge Fisher faced was a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $50.
Lewis dismissed her suit in April 1981, and last summer the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond largely affirmed his decision, though Lewis was ordered to rehear arguments on whether police had violated Virginia law by jailing Fisher for more than a day without taking her before a magistrate.
The Fisher case attracted publicity in part because of the strip-search issue, which brought Arlington national notoriety when the U.S. Supreme Court last January upheld a ban on strip-searching persons held temporarily in Arlington jail.
Since then, local officials or courts have also stopped strip-searches in District and Montgomery County jails. A new Virginia law now prohibits strip-searches in most misdemeanor cases.
One of Fisher's lawyers, Leslie Auerbach, has argued before Lewis that Metro regulations and Virginia law require that people arrested on misdemeanor charges be taken before a magistrate "forthwith." The magistrate then decides whether or not to release the persons on bond.
Fisher was never taken before a magistrate. Instead, she was kept handcuffed to a post at Arlington police headquarters while the Metro police officer went to the magistrate and received an order to have her jailed.
Fisher was then strip-searched. After she became hysterical, she was placed in a solitary cell for more than 15 hours. She was allowed to wear only panties and was visible to jail guards through one-way windows and closed-circuit television, according to her attorneys.
Metro attorney Donald Clower said after last week's hearing that Metro had turned Fisher over to Arlington police and that it was Arlington's responsibility, if anyone's, to take her before a magistrate. Fisher initially sued Arlington also, but Lewis dismissed the county from the suit.
Auerbach also argued that Metro had violated its own regulations, which require officers to issue a summons--like a traffic ticket--for minor offenses and to arrest someone only if he refuses to sign the summons or identify himself. Fisher was arrested almost immediately by a Metro officer who carried no summonses at the time, Auerbach said.