Recourse When Your Rights Are Being Violated By A Police Officers On The Road

Posted on: 25 February 2015

When you are on the road and get pulled over, you may be unsure of what your rights are. Some recent civil cases in the news have demonstrated that a person's rights can be abused by a police officer due to an exaggerated desire to find drugs. When the police go too far, the results can be very disturbing. It is important to be aware of things you should comply with, and what things you can object to.

Case in New Mexico

In one case, a man named David Eckert was stopped coming out of a superstore parking lot because he failed to yield at a traffic stop. Because he was walking with rigid posture and keeping his legs closed, the Hidalgo county (NM), officers jumped to the conclusion that he was hiding drugs, so they got a warrant to search his anal cavity.  Mr. Eckert later stated he was walking stiffly because he was cold.

This stop resulted in a trip to the local ER where the man was subjected to an intrusive anal examination, an X-ray, three enemas, and colonoscopy. Mr. Eckert protested aloud on each of these things and no drugs were found in or on his person.

Case in Texas

In a Texas case, Angel Dobbs, and her niece Ashley Dobbs, were pulled over for allegedly flicking cigarette butts out the window of the car as they were traveling down highway 161 one evening. The state trooper, David Ferrell, who stopped them said he could smell marijuana in the car, so he called another female officer to come and search the women for drugs.

The officer, Kelly Helleson, had each woman stand in front of the police cruiser with the lights and camera on, in plain view of passersby. She then put on gloves during the searches, and put her gloved hand down in the women's clothing to examine their perianal and vulvar areas without changing gloves between examining each woman. No illegal drugs were found on their persons or in their car, and they were not charged with any crime.

So What Can A Person Do in a Similar Situation?

These incidents are happening mostly in states near the Mexican border and have been motivated by the war on drugs. However, there have been reports of similar abuses in inner cities in other regions, and accusations of racial profiling have arisen over this.

If you are stopped by police, you may have to allow invasive procedures that are a violation of your rights because the officers could claim you were resisting, and they have the means to forcibly subdue you. However, you do have some recourse later.

You should be aware of these things:

  • A conversation with police can become a "consensual encounter," which could lead to other intrusive actions. If an officer says you are free to go, do not hang around for further questioning.

  • Police can look inside your car and use a drug sniffing canine around your vehicle.

  • The officers need a warrant to search your vehicle without your permission.

  • What you say to officers can be used on the scene as a pretext for further actions and can be used in court later.

  • An officer may pat you down if there is reason to believe you have a weapon, or they are arresting you.

  • A cavity search requires a warrant, and invasive procedures need to be done by licensed medical personnel. Strip and cavity searches should be performed only after you have been arrested and taken to jail.

  • If it appears you may be searched you should state that you 'are not consenting to a search but you are not resisting,' and you should request that the encounter be recorded.

In the case of Mr. Eckert, when the police took him to the local hospital, the doctor refused to do the search because of his concern for the man's rights, the slippery slope nature of such exams (not finding drugs in one procedure may lead to another), and effects such searches have on a person psychologically. The police then took him to another hospital where the procedures were performed.

David Eckert successfully sued the police department of Hidalgo County and the city of Deming in Texas, and won a $1.6 million dollar award. He is also suing the county deputy district attorney and Gila Regional Medical Center.

Angel Dobbs and her niece sued the Texas Department of Public Safety and the case was settled for $185,000. As a result of her complaint, the officer who stopped them was suspended for a period of time, and Officer Helleson lost her job, was charged with sexual assault, and received probation plus a fine.

If this is a situation you are in, consider calling a personal injury lawyer like Elliott & MacLean LLP to help your case.