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Why Is That Cop's Finger in Your Butt? - Reason.com

The war on drugs now features roadside sexual assaults.

Jacob Sullum | May 11, 2015

Last month the Texas House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill that requires police officers to obtain a warrant before probing the anuses and vaginas of motorists during traffic stops. The fact that the bill was deemed necessary speaks volumes about the way the war on drugs has eroded our Fourth Amendment rights and encouraged cops to inflict outrageous indignities on people they suspect of violating pharmacological taboos.

How often do Texas cops decide to perform body cavity searches on people they pull over for routine traffic offenses? More often than you might think. Looking for the case that gave rise to this bill, I immediately found three cases, all involving young women suspected of marijuana possession.

On Memorial Day in 2012, Alexandria Randle and Brandy Hamilton, both in their 20s, 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 38 and 24, respectively, when they 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, 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.

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 that the Texas House passed last month, 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."

You might think Dutton's bill is redundant, since we already have a Fourth Amendment, which prohibits "unreasonable searches." If these highly invasive, weakly justified searches do not qualify as unreasonable, what would? But while the courts probably would conclude that the searches described by these five women were unconstitutional, it is not hard to see how an overzealous drug warrior might think otherwise.

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld routine strip searches of arrestees, even people accused of minor offenses such as marijuana possession or failure to wear a seat belt. In those cases the searches, aimed at finding weapons or contraband, took place in jail prior to confinement. But in 2003 the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that the Fourth Amendment allows warrantless inspection of body cavities in other settings as a "search incident to arrest." The case involved Danny Joe McGee, a suspected crack dealer who was arrested for marijuana use. Based on a tip from an informant who suggested that McGee might be concealing crack "between his buttocks," a police officer took him to "a secluded area" of a fire station and "compelled McGee to drop his pants, bend over, and spread his buttocks." A "visual search of McGee's anal region" revealed "several rocks of crack cocaine wrapped in red plastic in plain view lodged between McGee's buttocks."

The Supreme Court also has indicated that warrantless body cavity searches are permissible near the border as part of the government's drug interdiction efforts. In a 1985 decision that upheld the detention of a Colombian woman whom customs agents suspected of swallowing balloons filled with cocaine, the Court said "we suggest no view on what level of suspicion, if any, is required for nonroutine border searches such as strip, body-cavity, or involuntary x-ray searches" (emphasis added). In other words, the Court assumed that such searches, aimed at addressing "the veritable national crisis in law enforcement caused by smuggling of illicit narcotics," do not require probable cause, let alone a warrant.

In 2009 the Court ruled that public school officials went too far when they looked in the underwear of an eighth-grader suspected of bringing ibuprofen to school. But that decision left open the possibility that a strip search might be constitutional in a case involving a drug scarier than Advil if there was reason to believe a student had hidden it under her clothing.

The searches that prompted Dutton's bill are different from the ones that have been upheld by the courts in several significant ways: They did not follow an arrest, they were not initiated by customs agents, they were conducted publicly on the side of the road, and they were not based on specific information indicating that the women had concealed drugs inside their bodies. Furthermore, the searches involved physical contact as opposed to a visual inspection.

Still, in at least two of the cases, there was evidence of an arrestable offense: marijuana possession. Perhaps the troopers thought a search in that situation was reasonable even without an actual arrest. Or perhaps they did not see an important difference between searching someone's car, which police are allowed to do without a warrant if they have probable cause to believe they will find evidence of a crime, and searching someone's anus or vagina.

That may be hard to believe, but it is also hard to believe that six troopers in three separate traffic stops thought it was reasonable to explore those private areas on the off chance that there might be some pot there. Such judgments can be understood only in the context of a prohibitionist mentality that sees bits of dried vegetable matter as a grave threat to public order.

"I was shocked to learn that these very intrusive searches were performed without a warrant and without regard to basic sanitary practices," says state Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), who is sponsoring another bill aimed at preventing such incidents. "While I have a tremendous amount of respect for our local police and sheriff's departments, I am concerned about the fact that this could happen to any of us, here or in other parts of the state, as we travel. The Fourth Amendment guarantees the right of the people to be secure in their persons, and I believe this bill is a natural reflection of that right."

Burrows' bill goes further than Dutton's by requiring a warrant for a body cavity search of anyone detained (but not arrested) by police, whether during a traffic stop or in another context. It also 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 evidence obtained in violation of the new rules inadmissible in court. Sadly, the concern that people forced to undergo such searches will be stuck with the resulting medical bill, even when no contraband turns up, is no more fanciful than the concern that traffic cops will commit sexual assault in the name of enforcing our drug laws.

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How the DEA took a young man’s life savings without ever charging him with a crime

widJL4H.png
The DEA Asset Forfeiture Program's unofficial logo: "You make it, we'll take it." (Photo courtesy of Fred Repp)

Joseph Rivers was hoping to hit it big. According to the Albuquerque Journal, the aspiring businessman from just outside of Detroit had pulled together $16,000 in seed money to fulfill a lifetime dream of starting a music video company. Last month, Rivers took the first step in that voyage, saying goodbye to the family and friends who had supported him at home and boarding an Amtrak train headed for Los Angeles.

He never made it. From the Albuquerque Journal:

A DEA agent boarded the train at the Albuquerque Amtrak station and began asking various passengers, including Rivers, where they were going and why. When Rivers replied that he was headed to LA to make a music video, the agent asked to search his bags. Rivers complied.

The agent found Rivers's cash, still in a bank envelope. He explained why he had it: He was starting a business in California, and he'd had trouble in the past withdrawing large sums of money from out-of-state banks.

The agents didn't believe him, according to the article. They said they thought the money was involved in some sort of drug activity. Rivers let them call his mother back home to corroborate the story. They didn't believe her, either.

The agents found nothing in Rivers's belongings that indicated that he was involved with the drug trade: no drugs, no guns. They didn't arrest him or charge him with a crime. But they took his cash anyway, every last cent, under the authority of the Justice Department's civil asset forfeiture program.

Rivers's life savings represent just a drop in the Justice Department's multibillion-dollar civil asset forfeiture bucket. Rivers has retained a lawyer in the hope of getting at least some of his money back. Rivers says he suspects he may have been singled out for a search because he was the only black person on that part of the train.

There is no presumption of innocence under civil asset forfeiture laws. Rather, law enforcement officers only need to have a suspicion -- in practice, often a vague one -- that a person is involved with illegal activity in order to seize their property. On the highway, for instance, police may cite things like tinted windows, air fresheners or trash in the car, according to a Washington Post investigation last year.

The DEA declined to comment in detail to the Albuquerque Journal's Joline Guierrez Krueger, though it did say that Rivers was not targeted because of his race. The Albuquerque DEA office did not immediately respond to a request by The Washington Post for more information about the case.

Once property has been seized, the burden of proof falls on the defendant to get it back -- even if the cops ultimately never charge them with a crime. "We don’t have to prove that the person is guilty," an Albuquerque DEA agent told the Journal. "It’s that the money is presumed to be guilty."

The practice has proven to be controversial. Earlier this year, then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced measures restricting the use of some types of civil asset forfeiture. But as the Institute for Justice noted in a February report, these changes only affect a small percentage of forfeitures initiated by local law enforcement agencies, not federal ones like the DEA. About 90 percent of Justice Department seizures won't be affected at all.

Asset forfeiture is lucrative for the DEA. According to their latest notification of seized goods, updated Monday, agents have seized well over $38 million dollars' worth of cash and goods from people in the first few months of this year. Some of the goods may be directly related to ongoing criminal investigations, but most of them are not.

For instance, in fiscal year 2014 Justice Department agencies made a total of $3.9 billion in civil asset seizures, versus only $679 million in criminal asset seizures. In most years since 2008, civil asset forfeitures have accounted for the lion's share of total seizures.

The Obama administration has generally pushed forward on criminal justice reform. Under Holder, who recently resigned as attorney general, the Justice Department took a hands-off approach to state-level marijuana laws, changed its drug sentencing policies and issued new rules to curb racial profiling.

But asset forfeiture has not been targeted much for reform. Asset forfeitures have more than doubled during President Obama's tenure, a Washington Post analysis found last year. The DEA, meanwhile, has been skeptical of the administration's agenda, openly opposing sentencing reforms and marijuana reforms, and defying Congressional bills meant to curb DEA raids on medical marijuana dispensaries.

But with DEA administrator Michele Leonhart stepping down this month under a cloud of controversy, Obama may name a successor who will aim the agency in a different direction.

The irony of Rivers's case is that five days before his money was seized, New Mexico's governor signed into law a bill abolishing civil asset forfeiture in that state. The bill passed unanimously in New Mexico's House and Senate, a sign of the widespread opposition to the practice.

But New Mexico's law only affects state law enforcement officials. As a result, in New Mexico -- and everywhere else, for that matter -- DEA agents will be able to board your train, ask you where you're going and take all your cash if they don't like your story, all without ever charging you with a crime.

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How the DEA took a young man’s life savings without ever charging him with a crime

widJL4H.png

The DEA Asset Forfeiture Program's unofficial logo: "You make it, we'll take it." (Photo courtesy of Fred Repp)

Joseph Rivers was hoping to hit it big. According to the Albuquerque Journal, the aspiring businessman from just outside of Detroit had pulled together $16,000 in seed money to fulfill a lifetime dream of starting a music video company. Last month, Rivers took the first step in that voyage, saying goodbye to the family and friends who had supported him at home and boarding an Amtrak train headed for Los Angeles.

He never made it. From the Albuquerque Journal:

A DEA agent boarded the train at the Albuquerque Amtrak station and began asking various passengers, including Rivers, where they were going and why. When Rivers replied that he was headed to LA to make a music video, the agent asked to search his bags. Rivers complied.

The agent found Rivers's cash, still in a bank envelope. He explained why he had it: He was starting a business in California, and he'd had trouble in the past withdrawing large sums of money from out-of-state banks.

The agents didn't believe him, according to the article. They said they thought the money was involved in some sort of drug activity. Rivers let them call his mother back home to corroborate the story. They didn't believe her, either.

The agents found nothing in Rivers's belongings that indicated that he was involved with the drug trade: no drugs, no guns. They didn't arrest him or charge him with a crime. But they took his cash anyway, every last cent, under the authority of the Justice Department's civil asset forfeiture program.

Rivers's life savings represent just a drop in the Justice Department's multibillion-dollar civil asset forfeiture bucket. Rivers has retained a lawyer in the hope of getting at least some of his money back. Rivers says he suspects he may have been singled out for a search because he was the only black person on that part of the train.

There is no presumption of innocence under civil asset forfeiture laws. Rather, law enforcement officers only need to have a suspicion -- in practice, often a vague one -- that a person is involved with illegal activity in order to seize their property. On the highway, for instance, police may cite things like tinted windows, air fresheners or trash in the car, according to a Washington Post investigation last year.

The DEA declined to comment in detail to the Albuquerque Journal's Joline Guierrez Krueger, though it did say that Rivers was not targeted because of his race. The Albuquerque DEA office did not immediately respond to a request by The Washington Post for more information about the case.

Once property has been seized, the burden of proof falls on the defendant to get it back -- even if the cops ultimately never charge them with a crime. "We don’t have to prove that the person is guilty," an Albuquerque DEA agent told the Journal. "It’s that the money is presumed to be guilty."

The practice has proven to be controversial. Earlier this year, then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced measures restricting the use of some types of civil asset forfeiture. But as the Institute for Justice noted in a February report, these changes only affect a small percentage of forfeitures initiated by local law enforcement agencies, not federal ones like the DEA. About 90 percent of Justice Department seizures won't be affected at all.

Asset forfeiture is lucrative for the DEA. According to their latest notification of seized goods, updated Monday, agents have seized well over $38 million dollars' worth of cash and goods from people in the first few months of this year. Some of the goods may be directly related to ongoing criminal investigations, but most of them are not.

For instance, in fiscal year 2014 Justice Department agencies made a total of $3.9 billion in civil asset seizures, versus only $679 million in criminal asset seizures. In most years since 2008, civil asset forfeitures have accounted for the lion's share of total seizures.

The Obama administration has generally pushed forward on criminal justice reform. Under Holder, who recently resigned as attorney general, the Justice Department took a hands-off approach to state-level marijuana laws, changed its drug sentencing policies and issued new rules to curb racial profiling.

But asset forfeiture has not been targeted much for reform. Asset forfeitures have more than doubled during President Obama's tenure, a Washington Post analysis found last year. The DEA, meanwhile, has been skeptical of the administration's agenda, openly opposing sentencing reforms and marijuana reforms, and defying Congressional bills meant to curb DEA raids on medical marijuana dispensaries.

But with DEA administrator Michele Leonhart stepping down this month under a cloud of controversy, Obama may name a successor who will aim the agency in a different direction.

The irony of Rivers's case is that five days before his money was seized, New Mexico's governor signed into law a bill abolishing civil asset forfeiture in that state. The bill passed unanimously in New Mexico's House and Senate, a sign of the widespread opposition to the practice.

But New Mexico's law only affects state law enforcement officials. As a result, in New Mexico -- and everywhere else, for that matter -- DEA agents will be able to board your train, ask you where you're going and take all your cash if they don't like your story, all without ever charging you with a crime.

anybody who knows about asset forfeiture and still thinks one political party cares more about us than the other is deluded

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It really shows how little regard judges have for the Fourth Amendment when it becomes necessary to pass a specific law against a police officer jamming their finger up a person's azz on the public roadside without a warrant. There are actual people with law degrees who think this was acceptable by constitutional standards.

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Dad Calls Cops on Son to Teach Him a Lesson, Cops Shoot Son Dead

http://gawker.com/dad-calls-cops-on-son-to-teach-him-a-lesson-cops-shoot-1460159897

A father's attempt to teach his son a lesson for taking his truck without permission ended in tragedy Monday after a local police officer shot the teenager dead.

James Comstock told the Des Moines Register he called the police on his son Tyler after the latter took the former's truck in retaliation for refusing to buy him cigarettes.

Ames Police Officer Adam McPherson reportedly spotted the lawn care company vehicle and pursued it onto the Iowa State University campus, where a brief standoff ensued after Tyler allegedly refused orders to turn off the engine.

McPherson eventually fired six shots into the truck, two of which struck Tyler who was later pronounced dead.

The official report claims the action was necessary in order "to stop the ongoing threat to the public and the officers."

Tyler's dad says he was unarmed at the time.

"So he didn't shut the **** truck off, so let's fire six rounds at him?" exclaimed Gary Shepley, Tyler's step-grandfather. "We're confused, and we don't understand."

James said his son had his fair share of minor troubles with the law, and was distraught over a recent breakup with his girlfriend, but was in the process of turning his life around, and was working on obtaining his GED at Des Moines Area Community College.

"He was a smart kid. He made his own computers. He was interested in IT," James told the Register.

The family's demands for answers got even louder following the revelation that a member of the Ames police department suggested twice that officers call off the chase.

"He took off with my truck. I call the police, and they kill him," James said. ""It was over a **** pack of cigarettes."

McPherson is currently on paid leave pending the results of his department's investigation.

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Huh?

do you really think there is a politician on either side at the federal level who is not aware of the fact that federal agencies regularly deprive American citizens of property without the due process guaranteed in our constitution? this isn't new....both sides have been and continue to be content to allow Americans to be victimized by the government

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I think he means that neither party particularly cares that the government can take your stuff without any due process whatsoever.

I tend to agree with that sentiment.

The political parties set the standards by which the police conduct their work?

I get that it's something they could probably affect if they really set their agendas accordingly, but this is hardly an instance where I'd even begin to think about partisanship.

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do you really think there is a politician on either side at the federal level who is not aware of the fact that federal agencies regularly deprive American citizens of property without the due process guaranteed in our constitution? this isn't new....both sides have been and continue to be content to allow Americans to be victimized by the government

Sure, I just don't think of it as a partisan matter, or use it as an indication that the two major parties are 'the same'. They're not.

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The political parties set the standards by which the police conduct their work?

I get that it's something they could probably affect if they really set their agendas accordingly, but this is hardly an instance where I'd even begin to think about partisanship.

The DEA is a federal agency. They fall under the department of justice which is headed by the Attorney General. Just as with the NSA spying, it could be put to a stop virtually immediately at the federal level if those in charge wanted.

But they clearly don't want to. That goes for both parties.

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The political parties set the standards by which the police conduct their work?

I get that it's something they could probably affect if they really set their agendas accordingly, but this is hardly an instance where I'd even begin to think about partisanship.

who is talking about the police? we are talking about federal agencies directly controlled by the president and congress and both sides are perfectly ok with it

and it isn't partisanship to say that both sides support the seizure of property from American citizens without guaranteed due process

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who is talking about the police? we are talking about federal agencies directly controlled by the president and congress and both sides are perfectly ok with it

and it isn't partisanship to say that both sides support the seizure of property from American citizens without guaranteed due process

Far from partisanship, it simply indicates that one has both eyes open and a fully functioning state of consciousness. It's observable fact.

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