Sheriff Bernie Giusto is facing a class-action lawsuit over strip searches at his jails—but that's not the worst of it. Giusto has also received the unwelcome news that County Chair Ted Wheeler wants to wrestle control of the jails away from the sheriff.

Attorney Leonard Berman is suing Giusto and the county on behalf of Riley Hinds, a former inmate at the Multnomah County Detention Center (MCDC)—both in Hinds' individual capacity, and on behalf of a class of others similarly situated—for violating his civil rights by strip searching him after he was arrested on a mistaken warrant for a purported probation violation on July 24, 2006.

"The county has a blanket policy of strip searching inmates at the jail," says Berman. "Even for misdemeanor or violation charges where there is no reasonable suspicion to believe an inmate is carrying a weapon or other contraband."

Berman contends that blanket strip-search policies like the one in operation at MCDC are unconstitutional, and is appealing to anyone who has been strip searched at the jail following a misdemeanor arrest over the last two years to come forward and share in any eventual settlement.

However, Berman's lawsuit is likely to be the least of Giusto's worries. Wheeler told the Oregonian on November 29 he plans a push to remove responsibility for the jails from the sheriff's office—the day after a consultant's report slammed Giusto's mismanagement of the system.

The report, which criticized over-generous leave packages given to jail employees, follows another highly critical report issued by District Attorney Mike Schrunk's office in 2006.

It also follows recurring allegations by inmates at the jail about their mistreatment at the hands of sheriff's deputies inside ["Jail Guards Run Wild," News, Sept 13] and an ongoing FBI investigation into at least one of those allegations ["Completely Fed Up," News, Sept 27].

"This is an opportunity for Giusto to stand up with me and the District Attorney and agree that these proposals are in the broad interests of the community," Wheeler told the Mercury on Tuesday, December 11, after presenting four outline proposals for a new jail management structure to his fellow county commissioners that morning.

"Any of these proposals increases, in my opinion, public accountability," Wheeler continued. Should Giusto not consent by the end of this week, Wheeler's proposals are likely to go to the ballot at the same time Giusto is scheduled to appear before a moral fitness committee at the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) in Salem next spring.

The DPSST will decide on Giusto's moral fitness for duty in connection with his alleged knowledge of former Governor Neil Goldschmidt's sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl when Giusto was Goldschmidt's driver in the 1980s.

Sheriff Giusto did not return a call for comment, while his spokesman Travis Gullberg says it is against policy to comment on open litigation.