Occasionally, a police story comes around where the conduct of the officers involved was so outrageous, so utterly lacking in common sense, ethics, logic, and adherence to the law, to say nothing of conduct that shocks the conscience, I need nothing more than media accounts to pass judgment. This, of course, presupposes the media accounts are at least reasonably accurate.
A case is point is that of David Eckert in 2013. Stopped by the police for a minor traffic violation, officers, for no apparent reason, despite finding no drugs in his vehicle or on his person, believed Eckert must surely be in possession of drugs, which must surely be up his anus, and over many hours, took him to two separate hospitals where he was forced to submit to multiple digital intrusions of his anus, multiple enemas and x-rays, and even a colonoscopy. No drugs were found. The officers did bother to obtain a warrant, but as is so often the case, I have no idea why any rational judge would have authorized a warrant for that particular fishing expedition, so devoid of probable cause was the affidavit. My fifth article in that series is here. It contains links to all of the articles.
The topic of this article, however, is an utterly bizarre case that occurred in Harris County, TX in 2015, as Reason.com reports:
Charnesia Corley was a 21-year-old college student with no criminal record when two cops from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office stopped her in June 2015 for running a red light.
After searching her car, police claimed to have found .02 ounces of marijuana. That was enough, they apparently felt, to justify a full-body cavity search. When Corley refused to remove her clothes in the dimly lit parking lot where she was being detained, one of the officers threw her to the ground, pushed her partially underneath her own car, and yanked Corley’s pants down to her ankles. For the next 11 minutes, dash cam video of the incident shows, she was held down by two officers while being searched. Corley claims that fingers repeatedly probed her vagina and that the officers ignored her protests. A third officer stood nearby holding a flashlight. No drugs were found on Corley’s person.
Sam Cammack, an attorney representing Corley in a multi-million-dollar civil rights lawsuit against the county, calls the search ‘rape by cop.
That’s precisely what I call it as well.
It is undoubted that they sexually assaulted her,’ Cammack says. “They put their fingers inside her vagina. You can’t pull someone over, think you might find something, and do that to them.
This is not merely a “he said/she said” situation:
The full dash-cam video was released to the Houston Chronicle and can be viewed here. It appears to confirm Corley’s side of the story, showing officers putting her in handcuffs, tossing her to the ground, removing her pants, and spending several long minutes searching her body.
The officers, William Strong and Ronaldine Pierre, that digitally raped Corley were charged with “official oppression,” but those charges were eventually dropped, and apparently, no interdepartmental discipline has been done, nor, apparently, will it be done. Since the incident, the Harris County DA’s Office and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office have been very publically at odds over the case.
Police initially said Corley consented to the search, but they also charged her with resisting arrest and with possession of marijuana. Harris County prosecutors dropped the charges against Corley in August 2015 and issued a statement calling the search ‘offensive and shocking.
No kidding. I seldom find myself in agreement with the ACLU, but this is one of those rare instances:
A body cavity search without a warrant is a ‘blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment,’ Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director of the Texas ACLU, told the Houston Chronicle in a 2015 article about the incident. Robertson could not imagine a circumstance where a roadside cavity search would be considered constitutional. Protocol for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office calls for suspects to be arrested and taken to a substation if a body cavity search must be performed, the Chronicle reported. There a microwave scanner is used for non-intrusive searches.
And if the mere opinions of lawyers were not enough in a case like this, Texas law is very clear:
As if more clarity is needed on the issue, the Texas state legislature in 2015 passed a law specifying that “a peace officer may not conduct a body cavity search of a person during a traffic stop unless the officer first obtains a search warrant pursuant to this chapter authorizing the body cavity search.” The bill—passed in response to public outcry over several high-profile incidents of roadside body cavity searches, including one in Harris County where a woman claimed that male troopers laughed while a female officer conducted a body cavity search on her—was signed into law just weeks before the Harris County officers strip-searched Corley.
I seldom find a more clear-cut case of police misconduct, and a more clear-cut example of the unwillingness of police executives to hold officers accountable for their actions. The law on this could not be more obvious and inarguable.
Most people do not understand that the daily actions of every police officer are regulated by the Constitution. In this case, we’re dealing with the Fourth Amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. [emphasis mine]
The courts, including the Supreme Court, have consistently ruled body cavity searches require the highest level of probable cause, and obviously, special precautions. Roadside rape by horny cops does not qualify. It’s difficult for me to imagine what could possibly have possessed them. Who wants to dumpster dive in anyone’s anus or vagina?
In the early days of my police career, an FBI agent conducted a class I attended in the law as it related to searching women. They taught male officers should never conduct even a pat down search—a search of the outer clothing after arrest to find weapons—of a woman unless they had no other choice. If no female officers were available, we were told, “move quickly, use the backs of your hands, don’t linger and don’t smile.” In other words, be as unobtrusive as possible, touch as quickly and lightly as possible, and don’t look like you’re enjoying it. Imagine pulling that off when your hands are inside a stranger’s body.
This good advice was given years before all men were branded rapists. Shortly thereafter, I came to understand that not only do men—particularly police officers—not want to touch women, they also do not want to look at them overly long or in the potentially wrong places, compliment them, or tell anything resembling a joke within hearing range. Men unfortunate enough to forget or ignore these points often find themselves accused of sexual harassment, even rape, and lose reputations, careers, the ability to complete a college education and can find themselves facing imprisonment.
Do I need to mention that the idea of inserting my fingers into the vagina of a woman I arrested—in a gas station parking lot—to say nothing of doing it for eleven minutes, for any reason, never entered my mind? Thought not. On to the Corey case.
The deputies found .02 ounces of marijuana? They found 2/100s of an ounce of pot? Rational officers, having no other reason to suspect drug involvement, would never charge anyone with something like that, particularly since it was found in her car, not, apparently, on her person. That’s the very definition of a weak case. I’m surprised they could so much as see it, let alone identify it as marijuana.
The media accounts I’ve read provide little more, and certainly no reason for the deputies to think Corey was hiding additional drugs in her vagina. It must be noted that people do hide drugs in their vaginas and anuses. They swallow balloons full of drugs, such that a burst balloon will result in their death. They do amazing and disgusting things, but that simple fact does not, for a moment, relieve any police officer of the absolute obligation to obtain competent probable cause, and a valid search warrant before conducting a body cavity search.
The applicable legal term is “conduct that shocks the conscience:”
The U.S. Supreme Court established the ‘shock-the-conscience test’ in rochin v. california, 342 U.S. 165, 72 S. Ct. 205, 96 L. Ed. 183 (1952). Based on the Fourteenth Amendment’s prohibition against states depriving any person of ‘life, liberty, or property without due process of law,’ the test prohibits conduct by state agents that falls outside the standards of civilized decency. [skip]
In Rochin three state law enforcement officers, acting on information that Antonio Rochin was selling narcotics, illegally entered Rochin’s room. When the officers noticed two capsules on a bedside table, Rochin grabbed the capsules and put them in his mouth. The three officers then wrestled with Rochin and sought to open his mouth so they could extract the pills. When this failed, the officers handcuffed Rochin and took him to a hospital, where at their direction a doctor forced an emetic solution through a tube into Rochin’s stomach. The solution induced vomiting, and in the vomited matter the deputies found two morphine capsules. Rochin was convicted of narcotics possession. The conviction was based solely on the morphine capsules, which Rochin had vainly sought to have suppressed as evidence.
Justice Felix Frankfurter, writing for the Court, held that such conduct by state agents, although not specifically prohibited by explicit language in the Constitution, ‘shocks the conscience’ in that it offends ‘those canons of decency and fairness which express the notions of justice of English-speaking peoples.’ Due process of law requires the state to observe those principles that are ‘so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental.”
The Court reasoned that to permit the use of such capsules as evidence under the circumstances would ‘afford brutality the cloak of law.’ The officers’ conduct ‘shocks the conscience,’ offending even those with ‘hardened sensibilities. They are methods too close to the rack and screw to permit of constitutional differentiation.’ Therefore, the Court reversed Rochin’s conviction because the stomach pumping violated the Due Process Clause.
I’ve often written about what constitutes rape, and in virtually every state law, penetration is an element. How much more outrageous is the Corey case than the Rochin case?
There is no evidence available in media accounts to explain why the deputies thought they could find drugs in Corey’s vagina. There was never a search warrant, so we have no statement of probable cause. State law, and Harris County SO policy required them to take Corey to a substation for a non-intrusive microwave search. Absent that, a search warrant would be required, and commonly, the search would be conducted only by female personnel, without the presence of male officers. Some agencies even enlist medical personnel for such searches.
With this in mind, how can the actions of Deputies Strong and Pierre possibly be reconciled? Even if they had legitimate, articulable probable cause to believe Corey was hiding drugs in her vagina—they found nothing—how can their roadside search be explained or excused? How can an eleven minute search of her vagina—there’s not a great deal of space to be searched there, and it’s not like there are separate, hidden compartments within—possibly be justified?
This is one of those cases that require no additional information. There can be no possible excuse, no mitigating factors. Not only did they violate HCSO policy, but Texas law, and that only in regard to the search. That they were acting under color of law does not render moot the possibility they committed rape. Nor will it protect the taxpayers of Harris County when a jury hears the civil suit. Nor will it protect the next young woman to come into contact with Strong and Pierre some night when their deranged imaginations tell them she’s hiding something in her vagina.
How many shocks to the conscience does Harris County, TX need?