OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – Oakland police officers illegally strip-searched two black men, and must pay them more than $200,000 in damages, a federal judge ruled.
More than 40 federal lawsuits have been filed against Oakland and its police officers, claiming cops had an illegal policy of strip-searching people in public.
Two plaintiffs in this case, Kirby Bradshaw and Spencer Lucas, used Officer Ingo Mayer, and U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel found they were subjected to an illegal search.
Officer Mayer stopped Lucas in December 2005 as Lucas drove his gold Cadillac. His friends Marty Robinson and Kirby Bradshaw rode with him.
Mayer testified that he pulled over the car for a “traffic violation,” but could not specify “any factual or legal basis” for the stop.
“The windows of Lucas’ vehicle were not tinted and from all the evidence in the record the court concludes that a reasonable officer would have been able to observe that the occupants were three black men,” Judge Patel wrote.
“The court finds that there was no reasonable suspicion to justify this traffic stop.”
Mayer, joined by his partner D’Vour Thurston and Parole Agent Steven Nakamura, asked the men for ID and if they were on parole.
Lucas acknowledged he was on parole, and Mayer handcuffed him.
“Despite his questions to the officers, Lucas was never told by Mayer or any other officer why his car was pulled over or why he was being handcuffed and detained,” Judge Patel wrote.
“At the time of this detention the officers were not aware of any parole or probation violations.”
Mayer and Nakamura asked Lucas where he lived and if he had any drugs. Mayer patted Lucas down outside his clothing while other officers searched the Cadillac.
Despite Lucas’ protests that “he was on parole for using a fake ID, not drugs,” Mayer undid Lucas’ belt buckle.
“I’m going to get off parole in 30 days,” Lucas told the officer.
“Not if I can help it,” Mayer replied, according to court testimony.
Mayer proceeded to ask Lucas if he had any “dope in your butt cheeks” and “shook [his] boxer shorts against his testicles.”
Kirby Bradshaw testified that Mayer ordered him strip-searched too.
“While they were standing in the street with their pants down, officers were talking and laughing,” the judge wrote.
“Throughout this entire incident Lucas and Bradshaw were compliant. The officers never discovered anything illegal on either of their persons.”
Lucas testified that during the search, which occurred at 8 a.m., a “‘nice sized group’ of people had gathered to watch at the corner and across the street.”
Bradshaw was arrested on an outstanding warrant. Mayer was informed that Lucas was “doing fine” on parole.
“Without having probable cause to arrest Lucas for any crime, Officer Mayer led an investigation to try a find a parole violation,” Judge Patel wrote.
Officers went to a home where they believed Lucas lived, based on police records, and searched the house without a warrant. After “30-60 minutes” the officers “came out with a brand new pellet gun, still in the box, that they found in a closet,” Patel wrote.
“The officers informed Lucas that he was under arrest for having a simulated firearm in what they decided was his residence.”
His parole was revoked and Lucas was sentenced to 10 months in prison.
At trial, Kirby Bradshaw called it the “craziest thing that I’ve ever been through in my entire life.”
“It’s against the law to, you know, urinate on the street, so to be having your pants taken down by a law officer on the street, it was very humiliating,” Kirby testified.
“I feel I was back in the Jim Crow days.”
Judge Patel found the testimony from Lucas, Bradshaw, and other witnesses credible.
Patel found that the traffic stop and detention violated Lucas’ and Bradshaw’s Fourth Amendment rights because there was no probable cause.
Lucas’ parole officer told Mayer and the other officers that Lucas was homeless and living in motels.
“Instead of arranging for him to meet with the Parole Officer and clarify his living location, the officers drove him around Oakland and then to a nearby city looking for a residence and evidence of a violation,” Patel wrote. “This only exacerbated an already unlawful situation, compounding its unlawfulness.”
Patel found Mayer was not entitled to qualified immunity.
“A reasonable officer would know that strip searches conducted in public places under the circumstances here are unreasonable searches under the Fourth Amendment,” Patel ruled.
Patel found Lucas and Bradshaw were entitled to $100,000 each for the “humiliation, mental anguish and emotional distress” they suffered.
The judge found that Mayer “deliberately, callously and oppressively violated plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights,” and Lucas was entitled to an additional $5,000 because of his prolonged detention.
The plaintiffs requested that their initial racial discrimination claims be dismissed, which the court granted.
Patel dismissed a similar case involving alleged strip searches after finding that the plaintiffs’ testimony was not credible.