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$315,000 Settlement in Illegal Arizona Police Strip Search

The City of Scottsdale, Arizona paid $315,000 to settle a lawsuit claiming that a police officer illegally strip searched a citizen after responding to a 911 call.

When Heather Tonarelli, 19, and her friend Chris Smith heard loud knocks on Tonarelli’s apartment door at around 3:00 p.m. on June 15, 2008, they saw two Hispanic men they did not recognize. The men left when the door was not opened but returned about 20 minutes later. At that point, Tonarelli called 911.

Scottsdale police officers Chong Kim and Robert Inouye responded in separate squad cars. After Kim and Inouye de-termined that the two men were no longer in the area, they told Tonarelli and Smith to call police again if they returned.

Before Kim and Inouye arrived, Smith had called a friend, Hector Bagnod, to alert him of the situation. After the offi-cers left, Tonarelli and Smith went outside to await Bagnod’s arrival. They found Kim and Inouye giving him a ticket for speeding.

Kim instructed Tonarelli and Smith to sit on a wall a few feet from Bagnod’s car. He then began interrogating Tonarelli about whether she had been using drugs or alcohol. She denied using drugs, but admitted to having a drink earlier.

Kim insisted she was using drugs and demanded that she let him search her home. If nothing was found, she would be “off the hook.” Feeling threatened and intimidated, Tonarelli complied. As Inouye continued to process Bagnod’s speeding ticket, Kim and Tonarelli went to the apartment.

After conducting a search of Tonarelli’s bathroom, bedroom and purse, Kim told her that she could avoid a trip to jail to be strip searched by a female officer if she would submit to a search by him. “Feeling alone, terrified, and coerced” by Kim’s actions, Tonarelli “reluctantly complied.”

Positioning Tonarelli so he could view anyone approaching the apartment, Kim told her to remove her clothes. “He then had her lift her dress high, above her chest, and directed her to pull down her strapless bra, expose her breasts, and to flip over the cups. He then ordered her to lower her panties to her thighs, and told her to turn around twice for him while he shined his flashlight on her body.” The search lasted about 20 minutes.

Two other women had previously reported a similar incident involving Kim, but their allegation was not sustained due to lack of witnesses. Tonarelli filed suit after the illegal strip search and reached a settlement of $315,000 on November 16, 2009. She was represented by attorneys Robert R. Rothstein and Michael C. Shiel of Santa Fe, New Mexico; Andrew C. Schwartz of Walnut Creek, California; and Karen L. Snell of San Francisco. See: Tonarelli v. City of Scottsdale, U.S.D.C. (D. Ariz.), Case No. 2:09-cv-00953-FJM.

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Related legal case

Tonarelli v. City of Scottsdale