Burlco-based case leads to strip-search insecurity

Meditations on meaning in the surf at the Shore

Posted: April 07, 2012

The U.S. Supreme Court says you can be strip-searched even if you are arrested for not wearing a seat belt. Or you didn't leash your pooch. Or you forgot to use your turn signal. Or your muffler is too noisy.


It's enough to scare you straight.

There are some chilling true-life tales tucked into the 40-plus pages that the high court published Monday after it ruled that strip searches may be necessary to ensure safety in jails across the land. Otherwise, the court said, people who are arrested and placed in the general jail population may smuggle in weapons or drugs. Or they may have contagious diseases or lice that would spread to other inmates. Or they might have tattoos that show they are in a violent gang and should be segregated.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in the 5-4 decision, said the court should defer to corrections authorities because it's their job to keep control of the jails. To be fair, the swing justice wondered why anyone would be arrested for some of the more minor offenses and then placed into the general population. But he said that's an issue for another day.

The case came to the Supreme Court when a Burlington County man was erroneously arrested on a bench warrant - for an unpaid fine that he had indeed paid. Albert Florence of Bordentown was then jailed for one week and strip-searched twice before an Essex County judge angrily ordered him to be freed.

Writing the dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer said strip searches for minor offenses are a violation of a person's constitutional rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. He mentioned real examples of strip-search cases around the country that convinced him it is time to put an end to the practice. The searches should take place, he said, only if there is reasonable suspicion a person may be trying to bring in contraband.

Among the examples he cited were the case of an older nun who was ordered to disrobe and be inspected by a guard after she was arrested for trespassing during an antiwar demonstration. Then there was the case of the person who was detained and strip-searched for riding a bicycle without an audible bell.

Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd, who has been very critical of the city's school district in recent months, will soon have more control of its destiny.

Redd is seeking applicants to fill three school board seats - which means she will have appointed all nine members.

When the state takeover of Camden ended in January 2010, the power to pick board members shifted to the mayor. Previously the governor and the mayor each appointed three members. Three additional members were elected.

In her first year, Redd appointed Kathryn Blackshear, Sean Brown, Jason Gonzalez, and Ray Lamboy. Martha F. Wilson, Sara T. Davis, and Kathryn Ribay were appointed last year.

Gonzalez resigned in June, and Redd left the seat empty. She previously said she wanted to replace Gonzalez with another Latino.

The three-year terms of current Board President Susan Dunbar-Bey and board member Barbara Coscarello, both of whom were appointees of Gov. Jon S. Corzine, will be up next month. Coscarello sent a letter to the mayor a few weeks ago expressing her interest in being reappointed. Dunbar-Bey was not available for comment.

Redd asks interested applicants (who must be city residents) to submit a letter of interest and resumé to the mayor's office (520 Market St., City Hall, Suite 400, Camden, N.J. 08101) by the end of business Monday.

The school board reorganization meeting is scheduled for May 16.

This year has felt a little like the summer season arrived in February. The warm temps, the lack of epic snow (or any snow), the urge to hit the beach from near and far, the panic of editors suddenly looking for beach stories in March - all of this has made it feel like the high season is now.

For Doug Frohock, a heating oil and propane salesman and the husband of the Rev. Barbara Frohock, minister at Sea Isle Methodist Church, it was the back bays that called to him startlingly early.

Doug Frohock, 61, has been an ocean swimmer for about a quarter-century and is training for his 23d Chesapeake Bay Swim on June 10 - a 4.4-mile swim that benefits the March of Dimes. He's a regular at the Ocean City Aquatic Center, but two weeks ago on a Saturday, with the bay calling to him at a balmy 58 degrees in the lagoon just off the Intracoastal Waterway, he dove in, a full five weeks earlier than last year's record of April 30.

"I've never been in the water in March," he said. "It was perfect in a wetsuit and hood."

Last year, Frohock, a father of four and grandfather of six, swam a full seven months of the year outdoors, finishing up on Dec. 5, when the ocean water dipped to 49 degrees. With the early start this year, he might make it nine months, though he's been back to the indoor pool as temperatures dropped a bit since.

In the summer, he's out there almost every day, swimming in the space in a trough between where the waves start to mount and a sandbar. It's peaceful, he says, meditative. Sometimes his wife will paddle alongside in a kayak. One time, a dolphin swam with him for a half-hour.

"It really is a good time to meditate and pray," he said. "It is kind of a spiritual thing. It's so beautiful, it can become a very spiritual thing, out in the open water, looking around, checking out the scenery, praying. I go down early in the morning before work, around 6:15, and spend 40 minutes along the beach in real shallow water. At different times of the year, I'll watch the sun come up. It's very moving."

Doug's definitely got something figured out.

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