San Diego Police Creepily Forced Strippers to Pose for Photos. Now the City's Paying $1.5 Million.

A city ordinance let officers harass women as part of a licensing inspection process. A judge ruled it unconstitutional.


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The City of San Diego will pay a pack of strippers nearly $1.5 million for behavior sleazier that what you'd typically see at a club.

San Diego has an ordinance to license strippers, requiring them to get identification cards to show who they are. Then police got creepy. In 2013 and 2014, police came to two clubs, Cheetah's Gentleman's Club and Exposé, detained strippers for more than an hour, and subjected them to bizarre inspections and lined them up to take their photographs, all using this ordinance as a justification. The women claim the police made demeaning comments to them and threatened to arrest them if they tried to leave.

Back then, police said they were taking these photos to document the women's tattoos to track them—much like they do with gang members—because they change their appearances. Seventeen women saw this as a violation of their constitutional rights and sued.

In March, the women got a partial victory when a federal judge ruled that San Diego's ordinance violated their First Amendment rights. The judge ruled that the ordinance didn't have any provisions that prevented the police department from using it to harass the women or the clubs to discourage them from allowing or participating in strip shows without any legal cause. Therefore the ordinance violated the businesses' and the women's rights to free expression.

Unfortunately the judge turned aside—for now, anyway—a claim that the ordinance also violated the strippers' Fourth Amendment rights protecting them from warrantless searches. The judge determined that the strippers all agree to "reasonable searches" when they get their license to be strippers. Given that it's mandatory to get a license, he's essentially saying that the city has the power to diminish their Fourth Amendment rights to some degree if they want to legally work. But he did say that the searches have to be reasonable, inviting the strippers' lawyers to introduce arguments that they were not reasonable or consensual before issuing a ruling. So there's still a possibility that the judge may further determine that there were Fourth Amendment violations as well.

The City of San Diego had been trying to the case dismissed and failing. So Tuesday, San Diego's City Council approved two financial settlements–$110,000 to one dancer and $1.4 million to be split among 16 other dancers.

The city is also reviewing the ordinance for potential fixes to make it constitutional. Here's a suggestion: The "licensing" process should consist of a simple check to make sure they are of legal age. Then leave them alone.