Attorney Ross C. Anderson hates abuse of power.
Like the abuse of power displayed when a law enforcement officer strikes a handcuffed man, strip searches a woman over a traffic violation and physically or sexually assaults a prisoner.When such cases cross Anderson's desk, he takes them to court. And the results are impressive.
- The Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department stopped conducting strip and vaginal searches on women who committed minor infractions after Anderson filed a 1980 class action suit against the department over the practice. One of the plaintiffs was cited for making an improper left turn and was subjected to both types of searches at the jail after she told officers she was from out of town and couldn't appear in court on the citation.
- He took the department back to court several months later when deputies forced a man to undress in front of them after arresting him for being a minor in a bar. Officers forced the man, who was dressed in women's clothing, to strip in front of them "to prove he hadn't had a sex change operation," Anderson said. "It was a means of harassing him because he was gay."
After the second offense, U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins issued a stern warning to officers that such practices must stop immediately, Anderson said.
- He filed a 1987 suit against Murray City alleging excessive use of force and illegal search by a Murray officer. He won a settlement from the city.
- In March, Anderson filed a $3 million civil suit against the Salt Lake Police Department for the alleged beating of Darin Walker.
In addition to the Salt Lake suit, Anderson's current case load includes:
- A suit against the Utah County Sheriff's Department alleging illegal search of an Orem couple's home and unlawful seizure of their property. U.S. District Judge David Winder has ruled that part of the search warrant used in the search violates the U.S. Constitution. The remainder of the case awaits trial.
- Two suits - including a class action suit - against officials at the Utah State Prison alleging officials physically and sexually assaulted several prisoners there.
He holds quite a civil rights track record for a commercial litigator. Anderson estimates half of his current caseload is suits against the prison and law enforcement agencies for abuse of power.
That's not how he planned it. But such cases "generally aren't huge moneymakers and there aren't a lot of lawyers willing to take them. I can count on one hand lawyers I would feel good referring such cases to," he said.
Anderson's partners at the law firm of Anderson and Watkins wish he would cut back on the civil rights cases. But it's tough for a crusader to walk away from his passion.
"If these abuses aren't challenged, we are all subject to the police coming into our homes, rifling through our belongings and hauling them away indiscriminately. We can all be subjected to humiliating searches, harassment and rudeness by police officers.
"If you don't challenge these practices, they become the norm."