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.

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Comments on “Police Officer Attempts To Set Record For Most Constitutional Violations In A Single Traffic Stop”

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75 Comments
DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Suppose someone did have a history of criminal activity.

Are you suggesting that they should probably choose to remain a criminal for the rest of their life because the police have a right to treat them that way for life?

Is it a worthy goal of the police to discourage anyone from ever getting their act together and becoming a law abiding citizen?

It is probably worth extending this thinking to family relations as well. If your grandfather had any criminal activity, then you might too. Or your cousin, etc.

Ninja (profile) says:

Speechless.

This is one of those moments words fail on you.

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.

Lose his job? He should be arrested. And be thankful that we are in a civilized society (apparently he’s not part of it) and we opted not to apply the same thing he did to himself.

I really want to see how the union and other cops associations will twist this parade of horrible into “the victims are to blame! they looked too druggy!” or whatever.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Speechless.

What the officers did meets the legal definition of aggravated sexual abuse (rape). While a body cavity search can be legal under some circumstances (with a warrant), the absence of a warrant means this wasn’t a lawful search but rape — no more, no less.

And the department already ‘investigated’ and determined that the officers committed no wrongdoing because they followed department policies and procedures?

RICO Act, anyone?

wshuff (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Sure they are. That’s just part of pleading the case and the cause of action. The department failed to properly train, supervise, etc. And it certainly looks like they did. In fact, given that the department itself cleared the officer involved of any wrongdoing, it certainly appears that the department condones roadside rectal exams, at least as long as the officer thinks he remembers the one being violated from a prior drug case.

That One Guy (profile) says:

"One charge of contempt of cop, sentence to be carried out immediately..."

The cops were clearly determined to find something, and when the victims had the gall not to be carrying the drugs the cops were sure were there they decided to punish them for it. And of course their boss and union insist that everything they did was absolutely acceptable and there’s no need for anything even remotely like ‘punishment’, because those drug fiends had it coming!

And they wonder why people don’t trust them…

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: "One charge of contempt of cop, sentence to be carried out immediately..."

Wow. Contempt of cop. Just by being in your own car before having any interaction at all with the police.

The cops can just see someone they don’t like and decide to single them out. Make an example of them. Harass them. Invade their property and indeed their body cavities. And then still be convinced that they have not gone far enough to find what they were looking for.

Anonmylous says:

Uhm...

If there was no reason for the stop…

and no reason for the searches…

why aren’t they pressing rape charges? Sure, they’re cops, but they violated the law to essentially rape 2 people, in public.

These cops are rapists. The female officer may be an accessory if the other officers lied to her, but its still rape.

Manabi (profile) says:

Re: Uhm...

That would require the district attorney to press criminal charges. And given the extremely cozy relationship DAs have with police departments country-wide, that’s not going to happen. And they can’t even try to file charges themselves, they’d have to go to… the police department that already cleared the officers of any wrongdoing.

So while I agree, the system protects the cops and there’s no way this will happen. Which is just disgusting.

Quiet Lurcker says:

Mandatory retraining as part of any settlement agreement

Everyone from the chief on down should be required to undergo extensive retraining. These are minimum classroom hours, by the way:

120 hours regarding search/seizure including 4th amendment jurisprudence

120 hours sensitivity

40 hours on courtesy and respect

40 hours on honesty and integrity

By the clock, exclusive of breaks, lunch, etc.

And while we’re at it, let’s throw in immediate citizen review of all drug-related stops. If the citizen doesn’t like what she/he sees, the stop and any evidence get tossed out the window and the cop involved gets to do the whole training over. Again. And the chief gets to spend 24 hours behind bars for every stop tossed out by the citizen.

DB (profile) says:

I might be soft on police misbehavior, but I could almost accept the actions up to the police dog. I would believe “I misunderstood the rules”. The search they did was wrong, but it could conceivably have been done in good faith.

But when the police dog did not trigger and they continued searching, that completely changes the situation. They clearly did understand that the first search was improper, and they were “doubling down”. They needed to find contraband to justify their actions.

I’m left speechless by the body cavity search. I can imagine drugs being carried that way when crossing a border or entering a prison. But it seems extremely improbable when driving in a private car.

David says:

Re: Settlement

They are sure to go free. Criminal cases are prosecuted by the state attorney who has no interest in having police officers on his conviction record (really bad career move). So plaintiffs can just sue for recompensation, and that’s routinely paid by the taxpayer for violations committed “in the course of duty”.

BostonPilot (profile) says:

Re: Re: Settlement

They are sure to go free. Criminal cases are prosecuted by the state attorney who has no interest in having police officers on his conviction record (really bad career move). So plaintiffs can just sue for recompensation, and that’s routinely paid by the taxpayer for violations committed “in the course of duty”.

If towns & cities are going to continue to pay for police officers misconduct, rather than solve the problem with their police forces, judgements need to become large enough to have a deterrent effect. A small town getting a 20 million dollar penalty, or a city getting a 100 million dollar penalty might start to get citizens proactive to make sure their police force isn’t raping the citizens.

Or perhaps a big enough judgement would convince prosecutors to start prosecuting cops who do stuff like this.

Otherwise, I’m afraid to say, the only solution will be for citizens to start taking punishment of the cops into their own hands. If the judicial system doesn’t want that to happen, they need to stop this sort of cop crime now.

MarcAnthony (profile) says:

Battery and manslaughter

I’m astounded by the glaring negligence and willful ignorance of this cop’s roadside cavity search, which is, unmistakably, battery, if not attempted manslaughter. The cop’s untrained pushing, pulling, and squeezing could’ve easily perforated the victim’s colon.

It’s also amazing that this didn’t end up with someone being killed, because the guy would’ve been totally justifed in using force against the officer. You have the absolute right to protect yourself from assault.

David says:

Re: Payback is hell

Your fantasies may be a nice way to vent, but we have laws and law enforcement exactly because we don’t trust afterlife to fix everything we don’t manage to get right on our own.

So we don’t need a special place in hell as much as a place in jail for people considering themselves to be above the law and acting on it.

Whatever says:

Finally, some people who understand what due process actually means. Of course, Techdirt would rather bitch and whine about that useless piece of trash called a “warrant”. If Masnick was in charge of things it would only be a matter of time until criminals started knocking out babies to use them as shields, but thankfully that’s not the case.

Anonymous Coward says:

And the next time a cop is shot or is wondering why no one from the public is willing to actually assist them, and or is actively cheering for their demise, they just need to think of this fellow and how he was cleared, then realize that what they are getting, is probably deserved, because if they didn’t violate someones rights, odds are they helped to cover up for one of their buddies who did.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

This reminds me of a phenomenon among burglars...

Once a second-story man (or a car thief or whoever) works enough on lifting their prize enough, they come to feel they deserve it based on all the work they put in.

That’s exactly what this feels like. Officer Chris Medlin felt like he deserved the collar for all the work he put into getting it.

In both occupations, this is (or should be) considered unprofessionalism. Really, law enforcement officers should be completely disinvested in affecting an arrest.

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