Strip search ruled reasonable

Saturday, March 9, 2002

CHICAGO -- A federal judge brushed aside a jury's advisory-only verdict Friday and said Customs officials looking for drugs were reasonable in subjecting a woman traveler to a strip search and four hours in custody.

The opinion came six months after an emotionally charged civil trial in which Kathryn Kaniff, a 36-year-old, Washington Island, Wis., hairdresser, said she had been humiliated by smirking Customs officials in a grueling and degrading ordeal at O'Hare International Airport.

The jury on Aug. 21 found that she had been subjected to "willful and wanton" treatment at the hands of the officials, who found no drugs. The jury's advisory-only decision awarded Kaniff $129,750 in damages.

But Kaniff will not receive any money under the decision rendered Friday by U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer. In a 26-page opinion, Pallmeyer said that the search may have been painful but was reasonable.

Pallmeyer said that she was "sensitive to the concerns that moved the jurors who heard the evidence in this case."

"No traveler would find such an invasive search pleasant, and in ideal circumstances no innocent traveler would be subjected to such invasive and humiliating inspection," Pallmeyer said.

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