Texas: Police Search Woman's Vagina For Marijuana - In Parking Lot
By Steve Elliott
A Texas woman says sheriff's deputies violated constitutional protections by conducting a body cavity search in the parking lot of a gas station during a routine traffic stop last June.
Charnesia Corley, 21, was driving in Harris County about 10:30 p.m. on June 21 when a male deputy pulled her over, allegedly for running a stop sign, reports Dylan Baddour at the Houston Chronicle. He claimed he smelled marijuana, handcuffed Corley, put her in the back of his cruiser and searched her vehicle for almost an hour.
The officer found no marijuana, said Corley's attorney, Sam Cammack.
Returning to his cruiser, the deputy again claimed he smelled marijuana, and called in a female deputy to conduct a body cavity search. When the female deputy arrived, she ordered Corley, who is African American, to pull her pants down, but Corley protested, saying she was handcuffed and had no panties on.
The deputy ordered Corley to bend over, then pulled down her pants and began to insert her fingers into Corley's vagina. "She tells me to pull my pants down," Corley said. "I said, 'Ma'am, I don't have any underwear on. She says, 'Well, that doesn't matter. Pull your pants down," Corley said.
"I bend over and she proceeds to try to force her hand inside of me. I tell her, 'Ma'am, No. You cannot do this,'" Corley said.
Corley stood up and protested, and the deputy threw her to the ground and restrained her while another female was called in to assist.
When the backup deputy arrived, the two of them held Corley's legs apart and conducted the vaginal probe.
"What these officers did out there at the Texaco station was unconscionable," said Cammack. "I've worked many big cases and I've never seen that." Cammack plans to sue the Harris County Sheriff's office in federal court.
"It's undeniable that the search is unconstitutional," Cammack said. He also plans to file a complaint with the Harris County Sheriff's Internal Affairs Division.
The Sheriff's Office said they wouldn't comment on an "ongoing investigation," but confirmed "an incident" took place.
Incredibly, a spokesperson for the Harris County Sheriff's Department told local TV station ABC 13 that "the deputies did everything as they should."
"And so there you have it," wrote Radley Balko in The Washington Post. "Holding a woman down and forcibly penetrating her vagina to search for pot is official policy in Harris County."
As pointed out by Balko, since anything under four ounces of cannabis isn't a felony in Texas, "Corley was forced to the ground, stripped, and penetrated to search for evidence that at worst would have amountd to a misdemeanor. Which means that the Harris County Sheriff's Department believes it's perfectly acceptable to allow a stranger to forcibly penetrate a woman's vagina to prevent her from possessing a personal-use quantity of marijuana."
A public cavity search is in violation of common protocol for the Harris County Sheriff's Office, admitted Robert Goerlitz, president of the Harris County Sheriff Deputies Organization. Goerlitz said that in his years of training deputies, he has never taught a roadside cavity search.
"I can't really say I've ever heard of that happening before," Goerlitz said. "That's kind of shocking to me."
A cavity search with no warrant is a "blatant" violation of the Fourth Amendment, according to Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas. Robertson added that an orifice search is the most invasive search possible.
"A body cavity search without a warrant would be constitutionally suspect," Robertson said. "But a body cavity search by the side of the road ... I can't imagine a circumstance where that would be constitutional."
According to court documents, Corley was arrested for possession of marijuana and for "resisting arrest;" the cops claim she "pushed a deputy with her hip" (oh, gee) and kicked her with her foot. ABC 13 reports deputies seized half a gram of marijuana, but didn't say where it was found.