Baltimore police conducted more than 60 illegal strip searches, some in public - DoJ

© Sait Serkan Gurbuz
A routine traffic stop in Baltimore resulted in a woman being strip searched on the sidewalk and her anal cavity checked. After she was let go with a broken taillight citation, the case became one of the dozens of shocking accounts in the DoJ report on the city’s police.

The Department of Justice released the 163-page report following its 14-month investigation into the practices and procedures of the Baltimore Police Department following the police-involved death of Freddie Gray.

The report said the public strip search of the female driver “found no evidence of wrongdoing and the officers released the woman without charges… the woman received only a repair order for her headlight. The search occurred in full view of the street.”

When the woman filed a complaint with the department, her story was corroborated by an investigation. The officer in charge was given a “simple reprimand” and could not serve as an officer in charge until he was “properly trained.”

The report contains dozens of disturbing anecdotes of police illegal practices and misconduct and makes for disturbing reading. The report also found in the five and half years of data they examined, African Americans accounted for 95 percent of the 410 people the BPD stopped at least 10 times.

The report said “Strip searches are never permissible” before an arrest but it found more than 60 illegal strip searches over a six-year period. They found descriptions of BPD officers “jumping out” of police vehicles and strip-searching individuals on public streets.
In another complaint from 2014, a man said an officer who “had red patches with sergeant stripes” on his uniform, searched him several days in a row, including “undoing his pants” and searching his “hindquarters” on a public street.

“When the strip search did not find contraband, the officer told the man to leave the area and warned that the officer would search him again every time he returned,” said the report. “The man then filed a complaint with Internal Affairs and identified the officer who conducted the strip search by name… Internal Affairs nonetheless deemed the complaint 'not sustained' without further explanation.”

In another example, in 2015 an African American man filed a complaint stating that he was strip-searched in public, and had his genitals exposed by an officer whom BPD eventually fired in 2016 after numerous allegations of misconduct.

Most of the officers mentioned in the report were not punished for incidents recorded in the DoJ report, and when the public complained about the department’s illegal practices and misconduct they only received a reprimand.

Other anecdotes involve Baltimore police used Tasers in “unnecessary and unreasonable” situations, particularly on mentally ill suspects.

The report describes one incident in which police responded to a call to transport a woman for a mental-health evaluation. Upon arriving at the house, they found the woman sitting on the ground, clutching two vials of an unidentified substance and yelling, "Don't shoot me." The woman refused to open her hands.

"There is no indication that the officers attempted to verbally persuade Ashley in any way to open her hands or calm her down. Rather, the officers physically attempted to force her hands open. Ashley resisted the officers’ physical attempts and began to 'kick and swing' at them. According to the report, one officer used a Taser in drive-stun mode 'to try to calm [her] down.'"

"Because drive-stunning an individual causes great pain, it did not calm her," the report continues.

"Use of the Taser in drive-stun mode three times against a woman experiencing crisis, who was unarmed, posed no serious threat to the officers or others, and was not being arrested for any crime, was unnecessary and unreasonable."

In another account a black man was chased, tasered multiple times, taken to the ground and frisked for walking in an area “known for violent crime and narcotic distribution” and fleeing from an officer who tried to question him.

Other examples in the report show officers were encouraged by their superiors to clear streets of anyone loitering, particularly if the “loiterers” were black men.

Even when Department of Justice officials were in a police vehicle for a ride along, a sergeant told an officer to “make something up” to question and disperse young black men in the streets.

There were several examples of officers ordered to “clear corners," and in another instance a sergeant wrote about the practice, “I used to say at roll call in NE when I ran the shift: Do not treat criminals like citizens. Citizens want that corner cleared.”

Others officers used a template for making arrests near a public housing development who couldn’t give a “valid reason” for being there. The template left blanks for the date, time, name and location of the arrest but the words “black male” were already filled in for a description of the subject.

“The supervisor’s template thus presumes that individuals arrests for trespassing will be African American,” the report stated.

“One African American man in his mid-fifties was stopped 30 times in less than four years. Despite these repeated intrusions, none of the 30 stops resulted in a citation or criminal charge,” according to the DoJ report.