Civil Liberties

San Diego Cops Say Detaining, Photographing Strippers Just Part of Their Job


Cheetahs Gentlemen's Club San Diego/Facebook

San Diego strippers are suing the city police department after cops allegedly detained them and forced them to pose for semi-nude pictures during routine licensing inspections. The lawsuit—brought by two strip clubs and 30 of their employees—was filed Wednesday and accuses the city's vice squad of violating dancers' Fourth Amendment right to avoid unreasonable search and seizure. 

In March, about 10 officers showed up at Cheetahs Gentlemen's Club "with guns and bulletproof vests," according to the lawsuit. The clubs say officers stuck around for several hours, detaining and photographing strip club employees. "They asked us for our licenses and then took down our Social Security and had us line up in the back of the dressing rooms and take pictures," stripper Katelynn Delorie told local TV station 10News at the time. Another employee said cops asked dancers to remove articles of clothing so they could photograph all of their tattoos. 

The cops, of course, say they were just doing their jobs as prescribed. From the Los Angeles Times

Nude entertainment establishments require a city permit, which gives police the right to make "regular inspections" and requires employees to show their identification cards, according to police spokesman Lt. Kevin Mayer.

Taking photographs of the employees, including of distinctive tattoos, is a routine part of the inspection process, Mayer added. Inspections are meant to deter the employees from engaging in illegal acts.

"The San Diego code mandates we make these inspections," Mayer said. "This is not a criminal matter, this is a regulatory matter."

Do employees at San Diego department stores have to regularly produce ID? Do SoCal Subway cashiers get routinely photographed by cops? What makes working at a strip club such an inherently different proposition that it justifies city officials keeping an ongoing photo database of employees?

Sure, I can see why vice cops might want to regularly visit and photograph semi-nude women, just like Hawaii vice cops want sleeping with prostitutes to be part of their job. But the pretense they've cooked up to do so—strippers are just criminals waiting to happen if not closely monitored—is offensive and lame.

A 2013 "Comic Con promo," according to Cheetah's Facebook page

San Diego strippers are all required to get "entertainer's permits" (let's not even get started on that one right now) and the city apparently feels that regularly photographing entertainers—and any distinctive marks or tattoos they have—is just part of the permitting process. If so, that permitting process would seem to be pretty darn unconstitutional. Effectively, it allows cops to carry out a neverending general warrant against strippers. 

In a statement, a San Diego Police Deartment spokesperson said it "is currently conducting an internal investigation into allegations related to recent enforcement at Cheetah's Adult Nightclub" and "will not comment on this on-going internal investigation."

The clubs and women are seeking unspecified damages from the city and the police chief for "emotional distress and pain." Attorney Dan Gilleon told the Los Angeles Times that damages should be sufficient to "punish and to make an example" of the city and Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman and to deter others "from engaging in similar conduct."