BANGOR -- A federal appeals panel has ordered a new trial for a former Bar Harbor teacher who sued over strip searches following his arrests on misdemeanor charges in 2001.
The three-judge panel of the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston said a district judge who heard Geoffrey V. V. Wood's case erred in giving instructions to the jury during the three-day trial in Bangor.
The 39-year-old Wood was searched on May 27, and again July 10, and 11, 2001.
Wood sued Hancock County Sheriff Bill Clark and Linda Hannan, jail administrator at the time. The lawsuit did not name the officers who conducted the searches.
Following the trial, the jury found that Hancock County had not violated Wood's Fourth Amendment rights to protection from unreasonable search and seizure.
In his instructions to the jury, US District Judge George Singal defined a strip search as "a deliberate, visual inspection of the naked body of a prisoner which includes the examination of the mouth and armpits."
"[W]e believe the court's instruction erroneously circumscribed the jury's evaluation of the evidence," the appeals court's Senior Judge Frank Coffin wrote in the decision handed down Wednesday.
"Nearly 20 years ago, we defined a strip search as `an inspection of a naked individual, without any scrutiny of the subject's body cavities.' "
Wood, who was arrested for domestic abuse and violating a court order, testified during the trial that the jail employees ordered him during the first two searches to raise his hand over his head and turn around completely. He also told the jury he was ordered to open his mouth, move his tongue around and, with his back toward the officers, to bend over and touch his toes.
The appeals court granted Wood a new trial on two of the searches and upheld the trial jury's decision on the third and final search.