ACLU files suit against police

U-WIRE) Washington, D.C.- The American Civil Liberties Union filed an improper search lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police Department on behalf of Mitchell Fernandors, a D.C. resident who accused police of violating him during a routine body search when an officer allegedly used his hand to examine Fernandors’ rectal region.

The type of search is so common, said Arthur Spitzer, area legal director of the ACLU, that its nickname among police officers is “a butt check.” Fernandors contacted the agency, believing the search was wrong and, “after checking with people, (the ACLU) concluded it was a problem,” Spitzer said.

The federal lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court Oct. 11, seeks compensation for humiliation, embarrassment and emotional distress suffered by Fernandors.

On Oct. 10, 2001, Fernandors was standing at a bus stop at the corner of Rhode Island and 4th streets, in the Northeast section of the city, when a police cruiser drove up. Several officers got out and approached him, apparently investigating a murder in the neighborhood, Spitzer said.

The officers accused Fernandors of possession of an open container of alcohol, a bottle of beer that was sitting near him, and used that as probable cause to search his body. One officer allegedly put on rubber gloves and searched within his underwear, “presumably to find what was hidden,” Spitzer said.

The ACLU claims Fernandors’ Fourth Amendment rights, concerning unlawful search and seizure, were violated. According to D.C. law, police must have a search warrant to search body cavities, but the ACLU believes the practice often occurs without one.

Police authorities have spoken out against the practice in the past and refused to officially respond to the allegations.

D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey condemned the type of search, saying, “If (officers are searching body cavities), they’re way, way out of the ballpark,” in a Washington Post article.
-Carolyn Polinsky

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