(Dash cam footage comes from KTXA-TV, and shows Ashley Dobbs, 24, with Texas State Trooper Kelley Hellenson.)
Four women have filed lawsuits against Texas state troopers after being subjected to body cavity searches administered after routine traffic stops.
Both incidents were caught on video. The first, which took place just outside of Dallas, shows two women being genitally and anally probed on the side of the road after a routine traffic stop by a gloved female officer. In the second, two women were pulled over for allegedly speeding by a male officer, who called in a female officer to perform cavity searches. In both cases, the officers performing the cavity searches did not change gloves between searches.
The official policy of Texas officials is that these searches are unconstitutional, but according to lawyers and civil rights advocates consulted for the New York Daily News' original story, "these cavity searches are really standard policy among the Texas Department of Public Safety’s state troopers, despite their illegality."
Jim Harrington of the Texas Civil Rights Project points out that two identical searches hundreds of miles from each other, both performed on women during routine stops, indicates "some sort of department policy," despite this being officially "such a prohibited practice," and adds, "I don't know why they think they can do this. It's mind-boggling."
Which begs the question, why would these searches ever take place?
It's tough to justify their use in the two cases caught on film. Below is a description of one of the Dallas search (TRIGGER WARNING):
No ticket was issued following the lengthy traffic stop in July 2012, and no drugs were found. Angel Dobbs, 38, told The News that trooper David Farrell pulled her over on a Friday night, while she was driving to Oklahoma with her niece, Ashley, 24.
On the patrol car’s loudspeaker, he ordered her off the highway and onto a side road, she said.
He told the women they had thrown cigarette butts out of the car's windows. That wasn’t true, Dobbs said, but she didn’t argue. A long series of questions followed: Where were they going? Who were they going to see? Why were they going? Why was her niece with her?
Then he said he smelled marijuana. The women denied having any. He took the women’s IDs and went to his patrol car.
“He was back there for like 25 minutes,” Dobbs said. “My niece said ‘What's taking him so long?’”
They were ordered out of the car and told to stand in a field by the roadside. Farrell told them he had called for a female office to come and search them, Dobbs said.
“Do you have anything in your socks? In your shoes? In your underwear?” Dobbs said she was asked. Then trooper Kelley Helleson showed up.
At this point Dobbs started protesting, saying the situation was ridiculous and that she had no drugs and had done nothing wrong. The female officer told her to “shut up and turn around,” Dobbs said.
She did as she was told. Then the trooper’s gloved hand went down her sweat pants in the back and in the front.
The trooper's attorney has said there was no penetration and that both women submitted to the searches.
Dobbs disagrees: “She knows there was penetration. On both sides. Along the side of the road. She knows what she did.”
The dash cam video shows the aunt and niece alternately standing in front of Farrell’s patrol car, holding their arms out while Helleson pats their breasts and puts her hand down the front and back of their pants.
“They didn’t even search my socks or my shoes,” Dobbs said. "I just couldn’t fathom how you could search someone’s butt and their vagina, and not search their socks or shoes.”
Finally, and after Dobbs passed a field sobriety test, she was given a written warning for littering and told she could go.
And a description of the Houston search (TRIGGER WARNING):
Brandy Hamilton and Alexandria Randle were pulled over for speeding in Brazoria County by Texas state trooper Nathaniel Turner on Memorial Day in 2012. They were on their way home to Houston after spending the day at Surfside Beach on the Gulf of Mexico.
Turner said he smelled marijuana, then ordered Hamilton, the driver, out of the car. “Can I please put on my dress, because I have on a swimsuit,” she asks the trooper, according to the dash cam video.
“Don’t worry about that,” he says, “come on out here.”
By the side of Highway 288, Hamilton, wearing a bikini, and Randle, in shorts, are asked a series of questions about whether they have drugs on them or in the car. They say no, just some cigars.
“Is there anything in your bra or underwear?” Turner asks Hamilton. She says no.
Turner calls for a female officer to come and search the women.
Trooper Jennie Bui arrives, and asks for gloves because she doesn’t have any.
“She is about to get up close and personal with some womanly parts,” Turner tells Hamilton. “She is going to search you, I ain’t, because I ain’t about to get up close and personal with your woman areas.”
Hamilton, who is handcuffed, is bent over the patrol car’s passenger seat and probed by Bui.
“Do you know how violated I feel?” Hamilton pleads.
According to the women’s federal lawsuit, filed in June, Randle is then penetrated by Bui, who is wearing the same set of gloves from her search of Hamilton.
The video captures the sound of her screaming.
“They basically raped them on the side of the road,” said Houston attorney Allie Booker, who represents the women. They were part of a two-car caravan of family and friends that had spent the national holiday at the beach.
When the occupants of the other vehicle realized Hamilton and Randle were no longer behind them, the driver pulled a U-turn and backtracked. Seeing the women standing by the road with Texas troopers, the other car pulled in behind, the lawsuit said.
The video shows an officer asking for their IDs and telling them to stay in the car.
“The other family members were there,” Booker said. “They could hear the screams. They saw the gloves go on.”
The case has been recommended to go before a grand jury. In the meantime, Houston attorney Allie Booker says that this will not be the last incident to come to light. “A lot of people are scared to come forward,” Booker said. “But people are contacting us. They say ‘hey, this happened to me, too.’’