Recardo Meeks was illegally strip searched by Minneapolis police
Two Minneapolis police officers conducted an illegal strip search on a man during a traffic stop in March 2009, according to a Minnesota Supreme Court opinion issued this week.
The order states that officers David O'Connor and Daniel Anderson violated the Fourth Amendment rights of Recardo Meeks by pulling down his pants and making him bend over on the side of the road.
"Certainly, if the Constitution means anything, it's that when you get stopped for a traffic violation, you're not going to end up next to an apartment building with the police pulling your pants down," says Andrew Muller, attorney for Meeks. "There's no reason that this had to happen in public, and that's what the judge is saying."
The incident started around 2:30 a.m. right outside the Little Earth housing community on March 25, 2009, when O'Connor and Anderson pulled Meeks over for speeding.
The officers say Meeks's car reeked of weed, so they asked him to step out for a pat search. That's when, well, this happened. From the judge's order (footnotes omitted):
Plaintiff remained fully clothed while Officer O'Connor thoroughly patted down Plaintiff's outer clothing and buttock area and emptied Plaintiff's pockets. While pat searching Plaintiff's buttocks, Officer O'Connor claims to have "felt a large bulge between [Plaintiff's] buttocks cheeks."
The bulge was "blunt" and without a "specific shape." Officer O'Connor testified that, upon feeling the "bulge," he "started becoming concerned" and proceeded to handcuff Plaintiff "for [his] safety."
The officers cuffed Meeks, then pulled down his pants and shined a flashlight on his naked backside, according to the order. Meeks's body was also illuminated by the squad car's flashing lights, surrounded by apartment buildings and any late-night passersby on the south Minneapolis road.
Here's what they found, according to the judge's analysis of Little Earth's surveillance footage:
The video reveals that a piece of tissue paper protruded from Plaintiff's anus. Plaintiff's pants remained around his knees, with his buttocks fully exposed, while at his deposition, Officer O'Connor testified that "we always check the buttocks region to make sure there's not a weapon or narcotics there."
Officer O'Connor opened the trunk of the squad to retrieve rubber gloves. Officer O'Connor then removed the tissue from Plaintiff's anus while Officer Anderson looked on. Officer O'Connor claims to have believed that "there was a distinct possibility" that Plaintiff was concealing a gun between the cheeks of his buttocks. Ultimately, several "nuggets" of marijuana were retrieved by Defendant Officers pursuant to the search.
Meeks was ultimately cited for driving with a suspended license and a petty misdemeanor for possession of marijuana. He filed a lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis and the two officers, arguing the strip search was illegal.
In his order, U.S. District Court Justice Donovan W. Frank says the officers' need to conduct the search didn't call for the invasion of Meeks's personal rights. The officers could have also opted for the less intrusive "reach-in" search, writes Frank.
A trial is slated for later this year, where a jury will determine the damages sustained by Meeks from the search.
"There's no question that they violated Mr. Meeks's constitutional rights," says Muller. "The trial will focus on damages."
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