Deputies Involved in Warrantless Roadside Body Cavity Search Under Investigation, Attorney Says

Deputies Involved in Warrantless Roadside Body Cavity Search Under Investigation, Attorney Says

As soon as prosecutors dropped drug charges against Charneshia Corley last month, she filed her official complaint against the Harris County Sheriff's deputies who arrested her.

Here's how Corley recounted what happened following her June 20 traffic stop in northwest Harris County when sheriff's deputies claimed they smelled weed: “The black female officer sat on top of me while the white female officer helped to force my legs apart and stick her fingers in me. I felt humiliated. I told the black female officer that I felt embarrassed. She replied to me you should be. I also told her that they could not do this to me. She said I can do what I want, this is a narcotics search.”

Corley's attorney Sam Cammack says prosecutors tossed Corley's charges for misdemeanor marijuana possession and resisting arrest because the deputies lacked probable cause. But while Corley no longer faces prosecution, Cammack says the deputies who probed her in a Texaco parking lot, in public, are now being investigated for possible criminal charges.

“There's an ongoing criminal investigation on the officers,” Cammack told the Houston Press on Wednesday. “It's not just an internal deal.”

According to Cammack, the Harris County District Attorney's Office's public integrity division has launched an investigation into the deputies' actions during Corley's traffic stop. (A DA's spokesman says the office “cannot confirm” the investigation. The Harris County Sheriff's Office told the Press that, in addition to an ongoing internal affairs investigation into the incident, there are other pending investigations into Corley's arrest. The sheriff's office, however, would release no further details.)

Officers in the past have been investigated, charged, and convicted in cases that in many ways resemble Corley's. In 2012, when a Department of Public Safety trooper pulled over Angel and Ashley Dobbs on the George Bush Turnpike and claimed he smelled weed, he called fellow Trooper Kelly Helleson out to the scene. Dash-cam footage ultimately showed Helleson sticking her hands inside both women’s pants as cars whizzed by; the women claimed the trooper didn’t even change gloves between body cavity searches.

The women sued DPS, which settled for $185,000 in 2013. Helleson pleaded guilty to official oppression last year and was given probation. 

After news of Corley's roadside body-cavity search broke, sheriff's officials initially defended the deputies' actions. However, ever since legal experts have weighed in to say, unequivocally, that such warrantless roadside body-cavity searches are unconstitutional, HCSO has been mum on the Corley case. While multiple media outlets have requested incident reports and dash-cam video showing the arrest, the sheriff's office has refused to release anything further, citing ongoing investigations and a possible lawsuit from Corley. Last week, HCSO got an Attorney General's Office ruling saying the department can withhold everything but basic information on Corley's arrest.

Cammack, however, says he has a copy of the dash-cam video of Corley's arrest, and “it's bad, it's horrible, it's terrible, it's like nothing I've ever seen before.” Cammack, who recently acquired the video, says he didn't want to release the footage while the sheriff's office was in mourning over the slaying of Deputy Darren Goforth nearly two weeks ago. He wouldn't let the Press view the video and offered only this description of what it shows:

“They took that 20-year-old college student that had no criminal history and pulled her pants completely off, with no panties on, held her down in a hog-tie position with her feet up behind her ears spread her legs open and stuck their fingers inside of her on video. So that's the gravity of it.” 

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