$95K settlement for lawyer who said officer put metal detector up her skirt

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Bonita B. Bourke says a sheriff’s officer inappropriately ‘wanded’ between her legs when entering a county jail

The Sussex County Sheriff’s Office has paid a $95,000 settlement to a Hacketstown lawyer who sued the county claiming a sheriff’s officer inappropriately used a metal detector between her legs during a screening at the county jail.

In the suit Bonita B. Bourke said she was entering the Keogh-Dwyer Correctional Facility in Newton to visit a client in August 2014 with a male intern. She’d gone through the security process for entering the jail on “numerous occasions over many years without incident,” the suit said.

On this day both the intern and Bourke set off the metal detector, which required Officer Sean Long to use a detector wand on each of them before they could proceed.

According to the suit, the male intern was checked with the wand without incident. But when it was Bourke’s turn, the officer moved a medical detector wand between her legs and up under her skirt.

Bourke was “horrified and humiliated,” and told Long she refused to be screened that way. Long told her that in order to visit with her client she had to be “wanded” with the metal detector.  

Long initiated a check for the second time and again placed the wand between her legs and told Bourke, “spread your legs” as he moved the wand up between her knees.

Bourke became upset again and was told by another officer to cooperate with procedures. She was wanded a third time and allowed to visit her client.

According to the suit, Bourke “became anxious and disoriented as she was unable to prevent this inappropriate conduct.” As she was leaving the facility, Long apologized to her.

Bourke became so upset on her drive back to the office that she vomited on the side of the road, the suit says.

The settlement was first reported by John Paff, a government records watchdog, and he noted on his blog that the settlement was not an admission of wrongdoing by the defendants, and none of the the lawsuit’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court.

“All that is known for sure is that Sussex County or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Bourke $95,000 than take the matter to trial,” he wrote.

Sussex County officials could immediately be reached for comment.

Olivia Rizzo may be reached at orizzo@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @LivRizz. Find NJ.com on Facebook