Michael Velez was on the way to his construction job one day in March 2004 when a New Jersey state trooper stopped him for improperly changing lanes on Interstate 676.

It turned out Velez was a wanted man. The computer showed a warrant for unpaid parking tickets, $120 worth.

What followed, he said, was "a very humiliating experience."

Velez, 26, of Clementon, didn't get a chance to pay the fines. Instead, he was taken straight to the Camden County jail to await a hearing.

And at that time, everyone entering the jail, even for parking tickets, had to get strip-searched.

"They sent me in the room with the officer," Velez said, and recounted what he was told: " 'Strip down. Get totally naked. Lift your scrotum. Squat and cough.' "

"Then they told me to turn around and spread my butt cheeks," he said. "It was very demeaning."

He is one of two lead plaintiffs in a class-action suit that alleged the strip searches violated the Constitution. After the suit was filed in April 2005, the county changed its ways. Now the jail no longer strip-searches people arrested on minor offenses such as unpaid tickets. And people with unpaid tickets are given a chance to pay a fine and avoid jail.

In October, the county agreed to pay a settlement of $7.5 million. Lawyers estimate that as many as 20,000 people were wrongly stripped.

Velez, whose share of the money is $15,000, said he's happy the lawsuit forced changes: "There's no reason that someone stopped for a parking ticket would be pulled over and this be done."

- Mark Fazlollah