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Video of roadside vaginal search revives calls for charges against cops

by Alex Lubben
Aug 15 2017, 11:46am

The video just released publicly of Texas cops strip- and cavity-searching a woman in a parking lot might reopen the sexual assault case against the officers.

On June 20, 2015, Charnesia Corley was pulled over by two Texas police officers and then subjected to a search that her lawyers are calling “rape by cop.” But criminal charges against the cops were abruptly dropped the day before the case was set to go to trial, prompting her lawyer to request a special prosecutor be appointed to the case.

The new footage of the encounter, released Monday, might help. The graphic video shows Corley being subjected to an 11-minute-long strip and cavity search, during which she was handcuffed and stripped naked from the waist down.

“They then took Miss Corley and placed both ankles behind her ears spread-eagle position and started to search for something in Miss Corley’s cavity in her vaginal area,” her attorney, Sam Cammack, told Fox 26 Houston.

The cops claimed that they had smelled marijuana and ultimately recovered 0.2 grams of pot in the course of the search — a misdemeanor in Texas. All criminal charges against Corley were dropped.

“They’re supposed to protect you. They’re supposed to keep you safe, not rape you. That’s how I feel. I feel like I was raped,” Corley told local news site Click2Houston.

The Harris County Police Department sent VICE News their search procedure document, which states that neither strip- nor cavity-searches can be conducted without a search warrant, and requires they be conducted in a private place, out of sight of officers of the opposite sex. The document was last updated in October 2015, several months after the incident involving Corley.

Their search of Corley clearly deviated from those standards, but the department claims that its policies on strip- and cavity-searches weren’t on the books at the time. The video of the search, which Corley’s attorney released to the public on Monday, shows that the search was conducted in a parking lot in sight of two male officers.

“I want to be emphatically clear that today’s Harris County Sheriff’s Office is fully committed to ensuring that every resident of our community is treated with dignity and respect, even if they are suspected of committing a crime,” Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said in a statement.

Though the county police department now acknowledges that Corley’s search was invasive and not to its standards, it still argues that what the officers did wasn’t criminal.

“No one in this office stands by the search the way it was conducted. No one condones that. No one thinks it’s appropriate. It should not have happened. However, bad decisions, bad judgment may not rise to the level of a criminal offense,” said Harris County prosecutor Natasha Sinclair in an interview with Fox 26 Houston.

But it’s not clear the officers’ conduct was protected. In August 2015, the state of Texas made it explicit that cavity searches need a warrant to go forward. And by federal standards, unwarranted, roadside cavity searches, like the one conducted on Corley, are likely unconstitutional. In 2012, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a 9.26-gram baggie of crack cocaine found in a suspect’s rectum could not be brought as evidence because it was obtained through an unconstitutional search, involving the medical sedation of the suspect.

But the charges against the officers were dismissed on August 4, the same day the case was set for trial, after new evidence surfaced that the district attorney’s office says must remain “secret,” according to Fox 26 Houston.

The Harris County DA’s office declined to comment further, saying in a statement that “State law prevents us from commenting on evidence in an ongoing case.”

But Corley’s lawyer tells VICE News there’s not much to comment on: “The new evidence they’re claiming they had had nothing to do with any material fact in the case.”