Search and Seizure

Texas Legislators Vote to Ban Roadside Sexual Assaults by Police

A bill passed by the state House requires warrants for body cavity searches of motorists.

|

Texas Department of Public Safety

This week the Texas House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill that requires police to obtain search warrants before probing the anuses or vaginas of drivers or passengers during traffic stops. How often does that sort of thing happen in Texas? More often than you might think.

On Memorial Day in 2012, for instance, Alexandria Randle and Brandy Hamilton were driving home to Houston from Surfside Beach when they were pulled over for speeding on Highway 288 in Brazoria County. Claiming to smell marijuana, Trooper Nathaniel Turner ordered the women out of the car. After he found a small amount of pot in the car, Turner called a female trooper, Jennie Bui, and asked her to perform a body cavity search on both women. "If you hid something in there, we are going to find it," Bui says on the dashcam video of the traffic stop. It turned out there was nothing to find. The stop ended with a ticket for possession of drug paraphernalia.

"It was extremely humiliating, especially with my entire family, including my 8-year-old nieces and my nephew …in the back of the car," Randle told HLN. "They saw all of this happening, as well as everybody on the side of the road….I have a whole different feeling when I see police officers now….It's a very touchy thing dealing with them."

Randle and Hamilton sued the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) over the incident. Initially both troopers were dismissed, but Bui was reinstated. "It was determined that the relatively inexperienced trooper was directed by a more senior trooper to conduct the inappropriate search," DPS Director Steve McCraw explained.

Randle and Hamilton's ordeal was not unique. The same month they filed their lawsuit, DPS settled a case brought by two other women, Angel Dobbs and her niece Ashley Dobbs, who were stopped for tossing cigarette butts from their car on Highway 161 near Irving in July 2012. Trooper David Farrell claimed to smell marijuana coming from their car and called in a female trooper, Kelley Helleson, to poke around in their private parts. According to the lawsuit, Helleson conducted these "painful, humiliating, and shamefully embarrassing" body cavity searches "on the side of a public freeway illuminated by lights from the police vehicle in full view of the passing public."

Like Randle and Hamilton, Angel and Ashley Dobbs said the trooper who searched them did not bother to change gloves between assaults. No drugs were found. The women got $185,000 for their trouble.

In this case, which Rachel Moran, Brian Doherty, and Mike Riggs covered here in 2012 and 2013, the trooper who conducted the search was fired, while the trooper who arranged it was suspended. Helleson was charged with two counts of sexual assault, while Farrell was charged with theft for allegedly stealing a bottle of hydrocodone. Last year Helleson pleaded guilty to two counts of official repression and received two years of probation, plus a $2,000 fine. According to the New York Daily News, "Helleson apologized in court, saying she was only doing what she was trained to do." A grand jury declined to indict Farrell on the theft charge, and he is "back on active duty," keeping Texas highways safe.

Wait, there's more. In yet another strikingly similar incident, Houston resident Jennifer Stelly says she and her boyfriend were pulled over for speeding in Brazoria County on the way to Surfside Beach in March 2013. The troopers claimed to smell pot, found a little in her purse, and decided a body cavity search was a good idea. "I was on my cycle," Telly told the Fox station in Houston last December, "so she could not penetrate the vaginal area but she went to the anal area, and she penetrated and put her finger inside, and I just felt violated." Stelly is suing DPS too.

According to DPS, searches like these are contrary to department policy, but apparently not all troopers got the memo. So you can begin to understand the motivation behind the bill approved this week, which was sponsored by Rep. Harold Dutton Jr. (D-Houston) and still needs approval from the state Senate. Dutton's bill says "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."

A similar bill, introduced last month by Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), would go further, requiring a warrant for a body cavity search of any "person arrested or detained during the investigation of a criminal offense." Burrows' bill also includes a provision stating that "a person who is not arrested and charged with an offense arising out of evidence obtained incident to a body cavity search shall not be held responsible for medical expenses incident to the body cavity search." And sadly, that is not a fanciful concern either.

Update: The latest version of Burrows' bill applies to anyone detained (but not arrested) by the police; requires that body cavity searches be conducted "in a private, sanitary place…in accordance with medically recognized, hygienic practices"; forces law enforcement agencies to pay medical costs associated with searches regardless of the results; and makes any evidence obtained in violation of the new requirements inadmissible in court.

Advertisement

NEXT: Response to left and right-wing critics of the sex discrimination argument against laws banning same-sex marriage [updated with rejoinders to Christopher Green and Andrew Hyman]

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Would it be possible to set things up so that all settlements due to police misconduct are taken from police pension funds? I’m really tired of the “We fucked up, so the taxpayers will pay for our mistake” thing.

    1. The police and their unions would go more apeshit than they have probably ever gone before if that was tried. It would be great, but I don’t think we can even understand the shitstorm they would kick up if that was tried.

      It cuts at their core of power. Their power comes from unaccountability. Not from having arrest powers or guns. No, it’s the ability to do just about anything and get away with it. Making them all financially liable for any bad apples in their midst, while perfect for proper incentives, is the last thing any of them want, even the supposed good ones. Because then they all pay whenever one of them goes off on someone or kills someone.

      It would be a wonderful motivation for them to police their own. Which is of course why they would hate it as well.

      1. Well…a “Yes” with a “, but”. Around here they don’t have unions, per se-just voluntary associations that provide some functions of a union (no collective bargaining).

        No, the public is what shields the officers around these parts. Until you can make enough of the public mad enough to demand those kind of changes, you ain’t like to see that kind of reform here. And, I’d like to think that it’s more than likely to happen (if ever) in states without the ever-present unions.

    2. I think that hitting pensions is out of the question, and that Epi’s correct in that any attempt to increase their accountability is going to be met with the utmost hostility. That said, my own fantasy is cops having to carry liability insurance as a condition of employment, much as doctors are required to have malpractice insurance. I don’t think anything would reign in police misconduct faster than hitting them personally in the wallet for behaving like thugs, and if their liability costs got too high bad cops could be weeded out even without the help of DAs growing a sense of morality. I’m sure that we are at least a paradigm shift or two away from such a thing being possible in this country, but I can dream.

      1. The personal liability insurance is a fantastic idea. It seems to me to be the kind of reform the public might get behind. It definitely needs to be talked about more in the media.

        Of course, I can imagine some cities offering to pay their officers’ premiums/get them the policies as a benefit, and you back to taxpayers being on the hook.

        1. Yeah, part of the deal would have to prevent such obvious chicanery, which would be a whole new level of difficulty. The chances of reforming the way police officers are (not) held accountable will always have a snowball’s chance unless something or things happen to radically damage the halos that they are constantly buffing and so much of the public is either content to let them wear or actively helping to polish.

          1. Well, even if they paid for it, you could make sure that the premiums came out of operating funds, instead of whatever magical pool of ready cash they use for settlements now.

            Then, at least, the chief would have some kind of incentive to cut out the really expensive fuckers.

        2. Any attempt to increase their accountability will be met with insane resistance. Should it in fact pass anyway, they will immediately set about finding ways to circumvent it (in the way you yourself described, and others). They’ve tasted the unaccountability. They’re addicted. That genie does not go back in the bottle without a drastic overhaul of our entire “justice” system.

          They’ve learned that the public has a very high tolerance for the cops having extra rights and powers. So even if they go too far and cause a backlash, they know that they can still do a lot of shit and the public will look the other way just like it did for the last 30 years.

      2. It seems to me that simple, criminal liability is what we need. Really, there is nothing the police should be able to do that any citizen can not legally do.

        1. Yep. Either they are our “betters” and we live in a banana republic, or they are citizens tasked with keeping the peace, and they are to be held to the same standard as the rest of us.

    3. In some states, like IL, what you are asking for is for nothing to change. The police pensions are guaranteed in the state Constitution. So the taxpayers will pay anyway.

      1. That does make the “malpractice insurance” idea sounds a lot better.

  2. At one time, it was a state regulation that cavity searches in jails had to be conducted by medical personnel. That category included EMTs, but definitely not cops or jailers.

    Why troopers could “legally” do so on the side of the road is perplexing.

    Maybe it was in the FYTW clause.

    1. You’ll note that all the complainants and victims in this case are women. This is just copping a feel by proxy for the male troopers that call this in.

      1. They like to watch.

        1. Ugh, hold it right there, missy. I think I smelled contempt, or maybe just weed, coming from you. I’m calling in a cavity search. It’ll be done by a female officer of course. While I watch.

          (leers)

          1. Chicken!. Do it yer damn self. I hate being fingered by lesbos (NTTAWWT). And if you really need to watch, you’ll always have the dash cam footage to fap to later.

            1. Well, if you insist…

              (snaps on rubber glove)

              Bend over!

              1. This is going to cost the tax payers a whole lotta money…

                1. Hey, it’s not me paying, and I get to play amateur gynecologist with you. What’s the downside?

                  THIS IS WHAT COPS ACTUALLY BELIEVE

          2. Ugh, hold it right there, missy. I think I smelled contempt, or maybe just weed, coming from you.

            I think what you smelled was actually queef.

            1. Wouldn’t that be queefer? As in queefer madness?

              1. Way late but that comment wins the internet for a month. I had to hold my hand over my mouth to not wake the wife.

      2. Dammit! I just realized I coulda used a FFYTW zinger in my post…

  3. I like the trooper that was fired… but quietly reinstated after arbitration.

    “I vas only followink ordahs!”

    1. Aint no way I’d ever follow an order to stick my fingers up a stranger’s butt, even with gloves, you have no idea where that’s been. EWWWWW!

      1. Where’s Buttplug when we need him?

  4. Claiming to smell marijuana, Trooper Nathaniel Turner ordered the women out of the car. After he found a small amount of pot in the car, Turner called a female trooper, Jennie Bui, and asked her to perform a body cavity search on both women. “If you hid something in there, we are going to find it,”

    Go on…

    1. …and don’t stop till you reach the back of her teeth.

  5. looks like someone unplugged the server about 9:15

    1. Some drunk intern tripped over the power cord.

  6. “I was on my cycle,” Telly told the Fox station in Houston last December, “so she could not penetrate the vaginal area but she went to the anal area, and she penetrated and put her finger inside, and I just felt violated.”

    I have a number of questions.

    1) Didn’t they have to get a warrant for this “search”?

    2) Aren’t judges elected in Texas?

    3) If some judges did grant such warrants, have the judges in question been identified?

    If some judge gave out warrants so the cops could stick their fingers up people’s asses by the side of the road, then it seems to me that’s the kind of information the people of Texas should probably know about before the next election.

    1. Yeah….about that. There are enough people around here who would say, “Shouldn’t have had the drugs in the first place”. That whole, “I’m fine. YOU need the laws” thing. Until they get more comfortable with idea of drugs being legal, they aren’t likely to hold it against judges.

      And, the comfortable-with-drugs thing probably won’t get better until they need something prohibited themselves, or until they connect owning yourself (and not the government) with being free to put into it what you wish.

      1. Yeah, all these people seem to be coming from “Surfside Beach”.

        What, is that like Austin or something?

        1. It’s my understanding that many troopers have their haunts (more so than local cops), and that many of those have their crusades. Some are nuts for speeders. I’m guessing that the area around Surfside Beach got stuck with a narc that loves the idea of not letting anyone hide anything from him.

          And we all know where criminals love to hide contraband, amirite?

          1. I’ve seen girls hide it in their underwear, and I think it’s because they instinctively assume a certain level of privacy.

            You know, back in the Dark Ages, when people were slaves and serfs, I bet the local cops wouldn’t look up your but for contraband. They might violate the defenseless’ rights in all sorts of other ways, but what sort of insane society would empower the police to stop people for driving infractions and look up their buts for contraband?

            It’s Monty Python territory. It’s so absurd, it’s hard to believe it’s real life.

            If Texas is this bad, I wonder what they’re doing in Mississippi and Louisiana?

          2. In little boxes with gnomes’ heads on the top?

        2. That would be my neck of the woods. It’s a crappy little beach (nice jetties, though) about an hour south of Houston (taking 288 straight down to the beach), and also an hour South of Galveston (blue water highway, runs along the coast).

          As far as the DPS guys here and this propensity for cavity searches, I couldn’t say. I really don’t have any experience with those guys.

          Anyway, hope this passes. These searches disgust me.

    2. 1) Nope. This is what the bill is addressing.
      2) Don’t know. Besides nobody pays attention to judge elections. They just vote for the first guy listed under their preferred team designation..
      3) What would it matter? The judge can just claim the copper lied, and judges will always side with other judges over cops.

      1. 1) Nope. This is what the bill is addressing.

        And it’s insane that the WoD has taken us to the point that a cavity search on the side of the road is not automatically considered unreasonable and needs a special law passed to prohibit.

        1. But think about the chilrunz!!!! What if they buy vagina heroin????

          1. Don’t the possibility of snukes!

            1. Snuke? Snatch-Nuke?

      2. 4. But the judges will always side with cops and prosecutors over mere citizens.

    3. 4) Which one of them was pedaling and how fast could they possibly have been going?

      [Yeah, tasteless. No, I don’t mean to diminish the awfulness of the abuse this woman (or anyone) has suffered at the hands of police *and our preening culture* that launched this stupid war on drugs.]

  7. OT, but a nice quote:

    We’ve reached an odd moment culturally when leftists in the government hector us to lose weight and avoid the health risks from obesity while leftists outside the government hector us to stop “body-shaming” and accept that people come in all shapes and sizes. Can’t wait to find out who wins!

    1. It’s the War on Autonomy.

      The “acceptance” bullshit is just a rouse. It was created solely for the task of unraveling any established morality. It is the wrecking ball to the Judeo-Christian established morality. The government side is about establishing authority such that moral relativists default to the government’s position. It is the foundation for the new authoritarian moral order.

    2. Jokes on him. We don’t have winners anymore( they make people feel bad) we just have losers. Lots and lots of losers.

    3. It’s a war for utopia, a place where nobody never ever can feel bad about anything for any reason what so ever. It’s founded by people who make a profession of getting offended by everything for a living. QED, utopia cannot exist

  8. Also, it seems kind of stereotypically obtuse to insist that the person doing the cavity search be the same sex as the … um … the cavity in question.

    I think the person being searched should get to pick.

    I guess they think they’re being conscientious by not having male cops search females and vice versa, but if they’re worried about my feelings at all–I’d rather be searched by a female.

    I don’t know if not wanting to be cavity searched by another guy makes me a homophobe, but you’d think in Texas, anyway, they’d be sensitive to other people who are homophobes. I don’t know. Maybe this is the new frontier in gay rights or something. If they can make you bake a cake for them, who’s to say they can’t look for marijuana up your but?

    1. “Also, it seems kind of stereotypically obtuse to insist that the person doing the cavity search be the same sex as the … um … the cavity in question.”

      You guys know what I’m sayin’?

      A couple of Texas cops, who aren’t steers, decide they’d like to cornhole me because I’m irresistible, and it’s, “Hey Frank, call in a warrant. I think this cutie might have some marijuana up his but”.

      I’m sure there are some feminists out there who think that kind of turnabout is fair play–and it’s hilarious if it happens to a Christian or a homophobe. Meanwhile, at some point, you’ve left the Fourth Amendment behind and it’s turned into cruel and unusual punishment.

      This kind of thing should only be done by a doctor–and only if they’re looking for bombs or something. Whyen they think they’ve got something like the underwear bomber but taken to the next level.

      1. I’d much rather have a male. Men typically don’t have long fingernails.

      2. How can they know your gender before you’ve self identified?

      3. “who aren’t steers”—thanks for making me spit-take coffee onto my keyboard. @kenshultz

    2. …you’d think in Texas, anyway, they’d be sensitive to other people who are homophobes.

      Which is precisely where that comes from. It’s an added humiliation to keep the plebes in line and keep them quiet afterwards. “Bob” only knows how people this happens to who are really embarrassed about admitting it happened to them.

  9. Can me just agree that roadside finger raping is bad, mmkay?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.