Search and Seizure

Texas Cops Sexually Assault Another Motorist in the Name of Pot Prohibition

The warrantless roadside cavity probe happened two days after the governor signed a bill banning such searches.



What is it with Texas cops and roadside vaginal searches? Last May I described three strikingly similar cases in which Texas troopers fruitlessly looked for marijuana in the private parts of women pulled over for minor traffic offenses. The incidents were outrageous enough to inspire a new law requiring a warrant for such searches, which takes effect on September 1. That is too late for Charnesia Corley, a 21-year-old woman who was sexually assaulted in the name of pot prohibition by Harris County cops on June 21, just two days after Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law aimed at stopping this sort of abuse.

The Houston Chronicle reports that Corley was pulled over by a Harris County sheriff's deputy for allegedly running a stop sign around 10:30 p.m. Claiming to smell marijuana in her car, the deputy searched it for nearly an hour but found no contraband. Returning to his patrol car, where Corley had been sitting in handcuffs, the deputy said he smelled marijuana again. He called for a female deputy to conduct a body cavity search. The female deputy ordered Corley to bend over in the parking lot of a gas station and pulled down her pants. When Corley objected, according to her lawyer, the deputy threw her to the ground and held her there until another female officer arrived to help with the search. The two of them held Corley's legs apart, probing her vagina and anus.

"All I could do was lie there helpless," Corley told KTRK, the ABC station in Houston. "I feel like they sexually assaulted me. I really do. I felt disgusted, downgraded, humiliated." KTRK says the deputies "found .02 ounces of marijuana"—that's two hundredths of an ounce, or about half a gram. The report does not specify where this terrifying vegetable matter was located. According to KTRK, "deputies say she consented to the search," which presumably explains why she had to be handcuffed and forcibly restrained. Correspondent Kevin Quinn notes that Corley was charged with resisting arrest as well as marijuana possession (both misdemeanors), which seems inconsistent with the claim that she willingly cooperated in her own violation.

"What these officers did out there at the Texaco station was unconscionable," Corley's lawyer, Sam Cammack, told the Chronicle. "I've worked many big cases, and I've never seen that." Cammack told KTRK "it's undeniable that the search is unconstitutional." Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director at the ACLU of Texas, concurred. "A body cavity search without a warrant would be constitutionally suspect," she told the Chronicle. "But a body cavity search by the side of the road…I can't imagine a circumstance where that would be constitutional."

Even more strikingly, Robert Goerlitz, president of the Harris County Deputies Organization, told the Chronicle roadside cavity searches are contrary to department policy, which says such searches should be performed at a substation following an arrest. "I can't really say I've ever heard of that happening before," he said. "That's kind of shocking to me." That's right: The president of the union representing Harris County sheriff's deputies says their search of Corley is "shocking." But according to KTRK, "Harris County Sheriff's spokesperson Thomas Gilleland said the deputies did everything as they should."

Unfortunately, the case law in this area is not quite as clear as Cammack and Robertson imply. Although the Supreme Court has never approved warrantless strip searches of people who are not in custody or crossing a border, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has said a body cavity examination may be permitted as a "search incident to arrest" in settings other than a jail or police station. In that case the search followed the arrest and occurred in "a secluded area" of a fire station—not in public on the side of the road, a location that makes the search more humiliating and therefore less likely to be deemed "reasonable" under the Fourth Amendment. Corley's ordeal also differs from that case in that it involved physical contact, as opposed to a visual inspection, and was not based on specific information indicating that she had a habit of hiding drugs inside her body.

Still, Texas cops were confused enough on this question that state legislators decided it was necessary to specify 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." What's amazing is that even though the governor had just signed that bill, which was unanimously approved by the legislature in response to cases that attracted national attention, the deputies who assaulted Corley thought there was nothing wrong with what they did, and a spokesman for their employer is still defending it.

[Thanks to Maia Szalavitz for the tip.]

NEXT: The Old Ball and Chain

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 or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. …the deputies who assaulted Corley thought there was nothing wrong with what they did, and a spokesman for their employer is still defending it.

    Well, it’s ludicrous to think otherwise. Harris County knows that laws aren’t enacted with law enforcement in mind. They only pass laws designed to make criminal the behavior civilians want to engage in.

    1. I think the term of art is “giving law enforcement the tools they need to keep us safe.”

  2. Also, this mythical search warrant law isn’t taking effect until next month, so the gloved fingers of Lone Star State law enforcement professionals are going to have a very busy month of August.

    1. But they can continue to finger the folks well after Labor Day so long as they can say with a straight face that they didn’t know that they couldn’t do that. SCOTUS, bitches!!

      1. We are WINNING!


  3. It was not clear if the tiny amount of MJ they found
    was actually found by the strip search. I suspect not
    and as always you have to worry about planted
    evidence. Although if they had planted it, there would
    probably have been a lot more.

    Also, they forgot to look in her ears and nose.

  4. Judges are already tuning up their rubber stamps to circumvent the soon-to-be law. it means that victims will have to wait 3 or four minutes for confirmation before being raped by the cops.

    1. Yeah, if this was any indication of the prevailing attitude I am sure you are right. Saying “I smelled marijuana” as a justification for a body cavity search is just about as stupid as it gets.

      “Yes your honor, there was a strong odor of marijuana coming from her vaginal area. We suspect that there is a plastic bag stuffed in there that is strangely transparent to this incredibly strong odor that routinely can be smelled from deep inside body cavities. ”

      If the department is standing behind that ludicrous justification, it is with the expectation that the prosecutors and judges in the area find this sort of nonsensical statement compelling. Adding on a specific law requiring a search warrant merely adds a few minutes to the process.

      1. there was a strong odor of marijuana coming from her vaginal area

        Marijuana smells like fish? //sarc

      2. And then cops wonder why people look at them like the tyrants they are and cheer when one of them stops a bullet.

        I wonder how much more cheering will occur if someone fires up a woodchipper in front the police station?

  5. “deputies say she consented to the search,” which presumably explains why she had to be handcuffed and forcibly restrained.

    Words: They don’t mean what they used to.

    Also, welcome to the land of the free, where you can be sexually assaulted by the kings men/women.

    1. Starting right at the airport…

  6. the deputies who assaulted Corley thought there was nothing wrong with what they did

    I’m trying to recall a phrase- something about ignorance and the law. Oh yeah, excuses were in it too.

    1. Luckily, the SCOTUS has ruled that when cops conduct a search as the result of an error regarding the law, that’s just fine and dandy.

      1. i wish i had a job that valued what’s going through my head this much. do cops get the day off if they got in a fight with their significant other in the morning? (actually, considering they can literally get away with murder, that might be a good idea)

        1. This 130%. Apparently cops can get away with murder, rape, anything really, by justifying it by what they were thinking at the time — “smelled marijuana”, “didn’t know it was illegal/against department policy”, “feared for my safety”, etc. Sure would be an interesting world if that worked for everybody.

  7. The word is out in Texas for cops to get their rocks off before September 1.

  8. I hope every cop involved loses their job.

    1. I would prefer criminal sexual assault charges with some kind of “under color of authority” enhancers tacked on. Guess neither of us is getting what we hope for.

  9. I thought you needed a dog to ‘alert’ on the va-jj for such a search. Texas K-9 officers my want to thinking about filing a union grievance.

    1. Can’t say I’ve ever seen the term “va-jj” spelled out. Well done.

  10. “Judge Dred” was on last night. Apparently, these Tejas cops buy in to that worldview totally.

    “I AM THE LAW!” Good and hard.

    1. Being that ignorance of the law is an excuse for those who are tasked with enforcing it, the law is effectively whatever they say it is. All they have to do is plead ignorance, and nothing else will happen.

      “I swear your honor, I didn’t know that I wasn’t allowed to rape the suspect!”


    2. Dredd lives by the rules set forth for him. He doesn’t use force unless force is used against him first. He even gives suspects under penalty of death a chance to surrender in exchange for a life sentence in the iso-cubes.

      Modern police officers live by no rules.

      1. Was thinking more about Dred’s brother…

  11. Does the 4A say people are to be secure in their body cavities? No? Well then.

    *crosses arms and sits back with a smug smirk*

    1. Yeah,

      And they used lady cops so what’s the problem ?

      Did I tell you I once dated Farrah Faucett ?

      Booyah !

      /the hero Dunphy

  12. I wonder what these rapist cops will do when the world-destroying weed is legalized everywhere. I imagine they’ll either pass some kind of “open carry” law to apply to vehicles, or there will be a sudden uptick in searches for contraband missile guidance system electronics being smuggled to our enemies. After all, roadside rapists gonna rape.

  13. Divide the lawsuit judgement dollars by .02 oz and that’s a ratio that will make the Guiness book of world records.

  14. the deputies “found .02 ounces of marijuana”?that’s two hundredths of an ounce, or about half a gram. The report does not specify where this terrifying vegetable matter was located.

    Since the deputy kept smelling it, apparently it was stuffed up his nose the whole time.

    1. I’m trying to figure out what .5 grams of MJ would look like.

      I realize that the density of water is much greater than that of dried vegetable matter, but .5 grams of water would be equal to .5mL. That is roughly equivalent to 10 drops of water.

      I’m guessing that after the cavity search turned up nothing, they found a few blades of dried grass in the carpet of the car and claimed it was MJ.

      1. a half gram would be a ball the size of your thumbnail (again, being the density of dried grass)

      2. less than a standard bowl pack, maybe a for a 1-hitter.

  15. roadside cavity probe

    Nice album name.

  16. If they’d found the half a gram of weed in her cooch they’d have said so.

    1. that would be an amazing porn scenario if people still made scripted big budget porn

  17. “I feel like they sexually assaulted me. I really do.”

    That is because she was sexually assaulted. The sexual gratification of a rapist is not a necessary condition for an assault to be rape. The humiliation of the victim suffices as the motive for rape.

    Rape is a weapon in the State’s War on Drugs.

    Let me say it again: the government uses rape is a weapon in the American War on Drugs. This is not an accident, and it is not rare. Roadside rapes are not so common, but government routinely rapes suspects upon entry to its jails. The routine rape of incoming prisoners was not practiced before the war on drugs.

    Rape is an extrajudicial punishment, along with theft (aka, civil asset forfeiture), terrorism (unjustified no-knock warrants, puppycide, etc.), kidnapping (aka, arrest on bogus charges.) In such cases, the process is the punishment.

  18. These cops got degrees from UVA and Columbia?

  19. What’s amazing is that even though the governor had just signed that bill, which was unanimously approved by the legislature in response to cases that attracted national attention, the deputies who assaulted Corley thought there was nothing wrong with what they did, and a spokesman for their employer is still defending it.

    You don’t understand the bureaucratic mentality. Since the effective date of the bill was for Sept.1st, the deputies felt they could legally continue the body cavity searches up until midnight of that date. And whether the legislation passed unanimously or by 51%, the law is the law.

    That’s how they think.

  20. This story isn’t complete without knowing whether she really did shove the MJ up her VJ.

    I know in my head that it’s still wrong to search her like that, but somehow part of me thinks you shouldn’t be hiding stuff in places you don’t want searched.

    1. Utterly irrelevant, Bubba.

      They were going to grope her regardless of whether she had anything hidden.

      The groped her based on an obviously false premise, that they could smell half a gram of pot.

      If they found that pot on her (which I really doubt), that doesn’t justify the assault.

  21. I hope the male family members of that poor woman hunt down the pigs who assaulted her and kill them.

  22. Where is the presser with Loretta The AG Lynch announcing a probe of the Harris Co. SD for civil-rights violations?

  23. When quotas are implemented all rational thinking on the part of those subject to the quota ceases. And, come on, we all know LEOs operate under quotas.

  24. If someone was hiding .02 oz of marijuana in a body cavity, you would not be able to smell it unless that was some supernaturally dank nugs.

  25. As far as im concerned if i was a cop and thought someone had stuffed something up somewere, thats were my investigation would end.
    They must really want or need whatever that is, and the last thing that i want to do is go home and tell my wife and kids how i served the public by sticking my hand up a vajayjay on the side of the road, in hopes of finding a plant.
    thats actually pretty fucking sick. sounds like rape to me.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.