In late November 2018, in the wee hours of the morning, a Rock County sheriff’s deputy pulled over a van onto the side of the road in Luverne.
Dashcam footage shows a woman being led out into the night and onto the shoulder, just off-camera. A deputy with a flashlight tells her what’s about to happen.
“Here’s my partner,” he says. “She’s going to give you some orders, and you’re going to listen to them carefully.”
He explains to the woman that she’s going to be searched and heads over to man the radio.
“Keep your fingers together,” his partner says offscreen.
“Okay—it’s cold,” the woman says. “I’m just letting you know, ma’am—I have no panties on.”
“I understand that.”
“I feel like you’re grabbing my crotch.”
An argument breaks out. The deputies say she’d visited a meth house—she says she was just trying to collect from a guy who owed her money. They keep telling her to hold still, and she keeps asking them to just take her down to the station, or a hospital—anywhere not a cold roadside—before they do this thing.
“What’s in your pants?”
“I have no underwear on is all… you can ride with me in the car, because I’m cold, and I don’t want her sticking her hands in my vagina or wherever.”
Eventually, she says: “I know the law... you can take me down there and search me, you don’t search someone on the side of the fucking road when it’s below zero. There’s no sense in it.”
The woman is told to wait while they call another vehicle. She asks to wait in the deputies’ car, but one tells her she “lost her privileges,” and has to stand out in the cold.
You can watch all 21 or so minutes of this deeply uncomfortable encounter here.
The woman in this video is 38-year-old Kelli Jo Torres, who lives in Jackson County, Minnesota. She’s filing suit against Rock County, the deputies—Dallas Hamm and Shelley Douty, according to the complaint—and Sheriff Evan Verbrugge with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Minnesota.
According to the complaint, Hamm had pulled over the van, which was being driven by a man named Derek White. Hamm allegedly told White he was pulling him over for having an air freshener dangling from his rearview mirror, which is actually against the law in Minnesota while your car is in motion.
While White was fishing for his license and insurance—and amid questions about where they were going and who else they’d given a ride that night—Hamm allegedly told him to step out of the vehicle. The complaint says Hamm gave White a pat-down and found drugs in the brim of his baseball hat.
That’s when the interaction with Torres began. She asked Hamm if she could have someone come get her, but he allegedly refused, because her story “wasn’t lining up.” According to the complaint, Douty made Torres remove her coat, and the search began without explanation. As did the arguing.
“Ms. Torres repeatedly asked—and at times, begged—both defendants not to do a strip search on the side of the freeway,” the complaint says. “They refused to listen to her. Ms. Torres repeatedly told both defendants how cold she was, but both defendants blamed her for her discomfort and took no responsibility for their own unconstitutional and malicious acts.”
Finally, the complaint says, they brought Torres to a hospital, and a nurse removed what turned out to be a pipe from her vagina. She was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, only to have the charges dismissed in February of last year.
Torres and the ACLU are arguing the deputies had no real legal justification to search her, and trying, repeatedly, to do it on the side of the road in “below-freezing windchill” was not only unlawful, but “reprehensible.” They want Rock County to change its policies and train deputies accordingly, and punitive damages and legal fees for Torres.
Sheriff Verbrugge says he hasn’t seen the complaint yet, and doesn’t know the details of the lawsuit outside of what he’s seen in news reports, and he declined to comment until he learned further details.
"I feel very violated by the whole sitaution," Torres told the ACLU in a statement. "I repeatedly asked them to do the right thing. It makes me not trust law enforcement."
She added that she hopes the deputies are "fired," so this sort of thing doesn't happen to anyone else.