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Illinois Woman Awarded $70,000 for Strip Search Based on Canine Alert

On June 28, 2012, an Illinois federal jury awarded a woman $70,000 for a strip search that occurred after a drug detection canine alerted on her car following a traffic stop for an unrelated warrant for failure to appear in court.

Officers Terry Rogers and Dee Burgin ordered a strip search of Angelina Cianfaglione based on the canine alert and anonymous tips that Cianfaglione’s boyfriend, with whom she was living at the time, was potentially dealing drugs out of his house. Rogers and Burgin argued that since no drugs were found during the vehicle search, there was an increased likelihood that Cianfaglione was concealing contraband under her clothes, thus necessitating a strip search.

Following the jury’s verdict the defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law, arguing that they were entitled to qualified immunity. The district court found the cases they cited, which held a reasonable basis exists to believe a person is concealing contraband when there is a canine alert, were “clearly distinguishable” from this case.

The canine alert was on the driver’s door. Moreover, the court held there was no evidence that Cianfaglione had a history of drug use or convictions, appeared to be hiding contraband under her clothing, appeared fidgety or was acting in a manner to lead one to believe she was hiding contraband, commonly had drugs on her person, or was stopped on a matter related to the possession of contraband.

The fact that there was a continuing drug investigation into the house where Cianfaglione resided was not a basis to suspect that she was hiding drugs, the district court held. At most, the information police had from the anonymous tips would only provide suspicion that contraband might be present at the shared home, in the boyfriend’s possession or in a vehicle he owned or had driven.

Cianfaglione’s car was registered to her and there was no evidence her boyfriend had ever driven the vehicle. Considering all of these factors, the court rejected the defendants’ argument that the drug investigation into the boyfriend’s home provided any suspicion particularized to Cianfaglione on the day she was stopped.

The district court concluded by saying a finding of “qualified immunity would be inappropriate in this case,” as it “would allow officers to order strip searches on any individual on the sole basis that a drug detection canine makes a positive alert on the individual’s vehicle.” The court said it was unaware of any case law to support that proposition.

After denying the defendants’ post-trial motion, the court entered judgment on July 24, 2012, awarding Cianfaglione $15,000 in compensatory damages and $20,000 in punitive damages against Rogers and Burgin separately, making the total award $70,000. The court further awarded $1,215.65 in costs against the defendants. See: Cianfaglione v. Rogers, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Ill.), Case No. 2:10-cv-02170-MPM-DGB.

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Related legal case

Cianfaglione v. Rogers