A 21-year-old African-American woman from Spring, Texas, plans to file a federal lawsuit against the Harris County Sheriff’s Department over a vaginal search that a policewoman conducted on her in public -- in full view of bystanders. A lawyer for Charnesia Corley said the woman's vehicle was pulled over at a Texaco gas station June 21 for allegedly running a stop sign. The driver was eventually placed on the pavement, stripped and digitally penetrated by a female officer, in full view of gas station customers, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Police eventually charged Corley with possession of 4 ounces of marijuana that was not found inside the woman's body, but police would not disclose exactly where they found the pot, the Chronicle reported.
The woman's attorney, Sam Cammack, argued that sheriff's deputies violated Corley’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches because they did not have a warrant required to perform a body cavity search. The scent of marijuana in Corley’s car led to the eventual discovery of the illegal substance, the sheriff’s deputy said, but not in her private parts. "The deputies did everything as they should," a Harris County Sheriff’s Department official who confirmed the incident had taken place told a local TV station.
Although policies vary widely between municipal and county police agencies in the U.S., public body-cavity searches are very rare and constitutionally dubious, said Rebecca Robertson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “A body-cavity search by the side of the road ... I can't imagine a circumstance where that would be constitutional," Robertson told the Chronicle.
Several women in Texas have successfully sued and were awarded damages after police departments performed cavity searches in full view of the public, Robertson added. Deputies should have taken suspects to a sheriff's station where searches can be performed without such invasiveness, Robert Goerlitz, president of the Harris County Sheriff Deputies Organization, told the Chronicle. “I can't really say I've ever heard of that happening before," Goerlitz said. "That's kind of shocking to me."
Under Texas law, possessing four or more ounces of marijuana is a felony charge. But the amount that Corley was alleged to have would only be a misdemeanor, said Radley Balko, a criminal justice columnist for the Washington Post. “It seems doubtful that a woman could be casually driving around with [four ounces of] marijuana stuffed into her vagina,” he wrote Thursday.
Texas law enforcement agencies have drawn national attention in recent months for alleged brutality and mistreatment of African-American women. Last month, Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old Chicago-area woman pulled over by a state trooper in Waller County, was found dead in jail following her arrest in a traffic stop that escalated to the officer’s use of force. A bikini-clad black girl was shoved to the ground by a McKinney, Texas, officer in June, after officers were called to a disturbance at a pool party. One officer drew his weapon on unarmed attendees.