Police Officer Attempts To Set Record For Most Constitutional Violations In A Single Traffic Stop
from the and-all-with-his-own-camera-rolling dept
Here we go: three invasive searches — each more invasive then the one preceding it — without even the slightest shred of the Fourth Amendment intact by the end of it. Radley Balko has the details.
Here’s what happened: Lakeya Hicks and Elijah Pontoon were in Hicks’s car just a couple of blocks from downtown Aiken when they were pulled over by Officer Chris Medlin of the Aiken Department of Public Safety. Hicks was driving. She had recently purchased the car, so it still had temporary tags.
In the video, Medlin asks Hicks to get out, then tells her that he stopped her because of the “paper tag” on her car. This already is a problem. There’s no law against temporary tags in South Carolina, so long as they haven’t expired.
As we’re well aware, officers need not trouble themselves as to the details of the laws they enforce. If they feel something is a violation of the law, they’re pretty much free to pull someone over and engage in some light questioning. (The Ninth Circuit Appeals Court recently declared it’s even OK for police officers to lie about the reason they’ve pulled you over.)
Once pulled over, the fun begins. And by “fun,” I mean three consecutive unconstitutional searches. While the “automobile exception” gives law enforcement more leeway to perform warrantless searches, it does not free them entirely from the constraints of the Fourth Amendment. But these South Carolina officers tossed caution, the Constitution and the two subjects’ dignity to the wind in a matter of minutes.
The officers demand Pontoon show them his ID, even though as a passenger in the vehicle, he was under no obligation to do so. He complies. A few minutes later, an officer tells the driver (Hicks) that everything (bill of sale, driver’s license) checked out. At this point, she and Pontoon should have been free to go. But, of course, they weren’t.
Instead, [Officer Chris] Medlin orders Pontoon out of the vehicle and handcuffs him. He also orders Hicks out of the car. Pontoon then asks Medlin what’s happening. Medlin ignores him. Pontoon asks again. Medlin responds that he’ll “explain it all in a minute.” Several minutes later, a female officer appears. Medlin then tells Pontoon, “Because of your history, I’ve got a dog coming in here. Gonna walk a dog around the car.” About 30 seconds later, he adds, “You gonna pay for this one, boy.”
The dog arrived, sniffed the car, somehow failed to alert. Officer Chris Medlin — performing an illegal search of Hicks’ vehicle — alerted, however.
Early into the search, Medlin exclaims, “Uh-huh!” as if he has found something incriminating. But nothing comes of it.
The car’s a dead end, so Medlin figured whatever it is he’s looking for must be hidden on/inside the driver and passenger. He told a female officer to search Hicks “real good.” “Real good” is apparently law enforcement technology for “lifting the female subject’s shirt and exposing her breasts on the side of a heavily-trafficked road.” But there’s nothing incriminating there, either.
Medlin then turned his attention to Pontoon, who he claimed, post-search, to have recognized from a previous drug arrest. The search of Hicks was humiliating but it’s nothing compared to what Pontoon went through.
The anal probe happens out of direct view of the camera, but the audio leaves little doubt about what’s happening. Pontoon at one point says that one of the officers is grabbing his hemorrhoids. Medlin appears to reply, “I’ve had hemorrhoids, and they ain’t that hard.” At about 12:47:15 in the video, the audio actually suggests that two officers may have inserted fingers into Pontoon’s rectum, as one asks, “What are you talking about, right here?” The other replies, “Right straight up in there.”
Pontoon then again tells the officers that they’re pushing on a hemorrhoid. One officer responds, “If that’s a hemorrhoid, that’s a hemorrhoid, all right? But that don’t feel like no hemorrhoid to me.”
Because cops are naturally experts on rectal ailments. The civil rights lawsuit these officers are now facing — while occasionally written more like an editorial than a court filing — does contain this entertaining, low-key mockery of the expertise officers often claim they have (“upon information and belief, etc…”).
At no time during this illegal traffic stop and including up to the time of the filing of this Complaint, was the Plaintiff ever aware of any formal medical training of these two Defendants in the field of gastroenterology or proctology so as to be able to form a legitimate opinion as to what would constitute being “too hard to be a hemorrhoid”.
I guess when all you have is a glove and the desire to extract some sort of revenge for a drug bust failing to materialize, you’re allowed to declare what is or isn’t a hemorrhoid while you’re still deep inside a citizen’s anus. It’s probably right there in the local Law Enforcement Bill of Rights.
But this isn’t the only stupid thing Officer Medlin or his co-defendants had to say during this debacle. The lawsuit quotes Medlin several times. The words coming out of his mouth seem more motivated by frustration and vindictiveness than any actual law enforcement purpose.
After more than eleven minutes of exhaustive searching of the vehicle and with the Defendants clearly frustrated and upset that they have not found any incriminating evidence, Defendant Medlin proclaims at 12:43:40, “If he is hiding, he is hiding good.”
Then at 12:43:49, Defendant Medlin proclaims, “We are gonna search somebody” to which Defendant Clark (or possibly one of the Defendant Does) affirms, “Yeah”.
At 12:45:36 during the middle of this humiliating and illegal search of her private areas, Lakeya rightly objects to this horrific and demeaning treatment.
In response to Lakeya’s lawful objections, Defendant Medlin retorts and attempts to justify this illegal search with “It’s a female officer.”
At 12:50:27 and after the conclusion of the seemingly unending illegal cavity search of Elijah, Defendant Medlin explains “Now I know you from before …. when I worked dope, I seen ya, and that’s why I put a dog on ya car.”
Balko asked John Wesley Hall, the former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (and purveyor of the essential FourthAmendment.com website) his opinion of the searches these officers performed.
This is quite appalling, to say the least. I’ve encountered on the street strip searches of men in my own practice, but never of a woman on the street, and then this case has the added anal probing. Worse yet: There is no legal justification for anything, including the stop because criminal history alone isn’t reasonable suspicion. Everything starting with the stop was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment, and it just got progressively worse.
No reasonable suspicion, much less probable cause. The stop was unconstitutionally extended (US Supreme Court’s Rodriguez decision) to bring in a drug dog and perform two additional searches. The city’s probably going to need to reach into its taxpayers’ pockets and pay out a settlement in the near future if it wishes to prevent a closer examination of its police department and the day-to-day actions of its officers.
And the statement made by its police chief — when talking proudly about its 6-year-run as a federally-accredited law enforcement agency — won’t help much in fighting off indirect culpability for these officers’ actions.
They are trained a certain way and indoctrinated into a system of policies and procedures that just become part of their everyday work. I am extremely proud of how they interact with citizens and provide services to our community, while maintaining excellence and professionalism, even during some very trying circumstances.
There’s your “deliberate indifference,” inadvertently confirmed. From the lawsuit:
The unconstitutional actions and/or omissions of all Defendants employed by or acting on behalf of these Defendants, upon information and belief, were pursuant to the following customs, policies, practices, and/or procedures of the ADPS, The City and Director Barranco, or stated in the alternative, were directed, encouraged, allowed, and/or ratified by policy makers for ADPS and the City..
From everything captured by the dashcam and relayed in the filing, it appears Officer Medlin was so sure he had a drug bust that he did everything but raid the evidence locker and plant drugs at the scene. What happened here should cost him his job, but it likely won’t. The department says it’s already investigated the incident and cleared him. Now, because it’s facing litigation, it has refused to discuss anything else.