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Strip and Body Cavity Searches: Looking for Contraband in all the Wrong Places

by Matt Clarke 

It is unknown whether the Supreme Court’s ruling in Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington, 566 U.S. 318 (2012), which upheld the practice of strip searching jail prisoners absent individualized suspicion of illegal activity and regardless of the severity of their criminal charges, has led to an upswing in strip searches at local jails. What is known is that such searches, while dehumanizing, sometimes result in the discovery of contraband hidden in bodily cavities, as indicated by the following examples.

On January 18, 2019, guards at the Davidson County Jail in Nashville, Tennessee strip searched a prisoner who had been at the facility since July 2017, and discovered Suboxone, tobacco and a fentanyl/heroin mixture concealed in his rectum. The strip search was ordered by a lieutenant who had received information that Kenneth Johnson, 25, possessed the contraband. 

Johnson initially cooperated, but resisted when a “little pink baggie” fell out of his anus after he was told to strip, squat and cough. He tried unsuccessfully to swallow the baggie and hold a second one in his rectum. Johnson was tackled and restrained, and his mouth and anus sprayed with a chemical agent before he surrendered the contraband. 

When Wesley Dasher Scott, 40, was booked into Florida’s Pinellas County jail on January 4, 2019, he told deputies his knee was injured and he couldn’t sit up in the patrol car. That made them think he may be hiding drugs. The jail uses an X-ray machine called “Secure Pass” to search incoming prisoners. While Scott was being booked, he told deputies he had a “dirty little secret” and produced three syringes from his rectum. Then he said they didn’t belong to him. He now faces a felony charge for introducing contraband into a correctional facility. 

Police in Oklahoma City discovered over 26 grams of marijuana hidden in an arrestee’s vagina in December 2018. Dawn Burdine was the passenger in a stolen car that was stopped after being disabled by police using stop sticks. The driver had marijuana in his pockets. 

Sheriff’s deputies in Wyoming’s Teton County stopped Jared Huston, 37, for speeding in April 2018. He acted agitated and high, a violation of his release on previous drug charges, so they searched his car and found a glass pipe with suspected drug residue. They were booking him into jail on those two misdemeanors when a felony’s worth of oxycodone pills fell out of his pants. 

“It was later determined there were 81 pills in the bag with a weight of 30.3 grams,” said Teton County Sheriff’s Sgt. Todd Stanyon.

“I had a large amount of oxycodone in between my butt cheeks when I went inside the jail, and when they strip searched me they must have fallen on the floor,” Huston told a judge when pleading guilty to a felony possession charge.

In July 2018, Desiree A. Webster, 20, was driving a car that was pulled over by Shawano, Wisconsin police acting on a tip. A drug dog showed particular interest in the driver’s seat, and police later found various drugs in Webster’s vagina after a CT scan at a hospital revealed something in her pelvic area about “the size of a fist.” The baggie of drugs reportedly included 36.67 grams of cocaine, 14.72 grams of meth, 27.80 grams of synthetic weed, six ecstasy pills and 1.26 grams of marijuana.

“As a health care provider it makes it extremely difficult because people aren’t very forthcoming about that type of thing and so to try and identify what might be going on makes it hard, and these might be potentially life threatening cases,” said Dr. Ryan Murphy, an emergency medicine physician, who noted that had the bag of drugs ruptured, the results could have been fatal.

“If she were to overdose on that amount that would be a toxic dose and she would likely die from that type of an exposure so you know with that, with the cocaine you’re going to be in this like excited delirium state and the heart’s [going to] be going really fast and they’ll be running a high fever and you know the body will kind of shut down from that and you’ll die,” Dr. Murphy added.

Torrence Jackson, 42, of Syracuse, New York received a $4,595.12 bill from a hospital that performed an involuntary sigmoidoscopy to probe his rectum for drugs even though X-rays showed nothing was there. The procedure was carried out by hospital personnel on October 16, 2017, acting on the authority of a search warrant issued after police claimed Jackson said he had drugs inside him following a traffic stop. Jackson, who had a lengthy arrest record that included drug offenses, denied making any such claim. 

Medical staff initially refused to perform the procedure, which involved inserting a flexible tube into Jackson’s anus, but relented after the hospital’s attorney advised them to do it. They rendered Jackson unconscious, performed the procedure and found nothing. When Jackson refused to pay the hospital bill, it was referred to a collection agency before ultimately being forgiven.

“It’s crazy. It’s over the top, by far,” stated Hermann Walz, an attorney and professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “You’re looking for marijuana and cocaine? It’s extreme. If they wanted to cut him open and look at his stomach, that would be OK, too?”

“The whole thing is cuckoo nuts to me,” added Jackson’s lawyer, Charles Keller. “What country are we living in?” 

Drug charges filed against Jackson were later dismissed; he pleaded guilty to traffic violations.

In January 2019, various news reports described a suspect’s strip search at a jail in Miami, Florida. Delajurea Brookens, 29, was accused of stealing five expensive watches, including Rolexes, from a hotel room. She was found with only one watch when she was arrested, a $22,000 Hublot; the other four were recovered from her “vaginal cavity” during the strip search. She was charged with grand theft, introducing contraband into a correctional facility and cocaine possession, and later freed on bond.

More serious charges were filed against Jennifer Lance Patrick, 24, who allegedly hid drugs in her vagina when she was booked into jail in Marion County, Florida in September 2018. Surveillance video showed her sharing the drugs – later determined to be heroin and fentanyl – with another prisoner, Lorraine Gardner, who became unresponsive and died. Patrick was charged with first-degree murder, as well as possession of fentanyl and introduction of contraband into the jail.

In another Marion County, Florida incident, 26-year-old Pattreon Stokes was arrested in August 2017 for speeding, and police found almost 200 grams of meth in his vehicle along with crack cocaine, heroin and marijuana, plus a large amount of cash. But when they arrived at the jail to book Stokes, the money was missing. Officers said they noticed $20 bills “falling from Stokes’ buttocks area.” The Sheriff’s Office wrote in a Facebook post that following “a necessary but undesirable process for everyone involved,” $1,090 was recovered from Stokes’ rectum.

In June 2018, the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia posted pictures on Facebook of pencils, markers, tweezers and bobby pins removed from a female prisoner’s “birth canal” during a cavity search. The prisoner, who had arrived at the Oconee County jail from a state prison, was subjected to a full body search, including a cavity search. 

Jailers were surprised and perplexed when they found and removed dozens of pencils, markers, hair pins and seven sets of tweezers, which they photographed and posted online. Some social media users felt that was in bad taste, and “about as inappropriate a post by a public servant as I’ve seen,” one commenter wrote. The sheriff’s office was unfazed by the criticism.

And in March 2019, drugs were found inside the body cavities of two female prisoners at the Bartholomew County jail in Indiana. Kristin Hunter, 34, who was being held at the facility, was charged with dealing in a narcotic drug, possession of heroin, possession of a controlled substance and trafficking with an inmate. Another prisoner, Breanna Meier, 26, also was found with drugs in a body cavity and charged with dealing in cocaine, conspiracy to commit dealing in narcotics, conspiracy to commit trafficking with an inmate, false informing, false identity, and possession of meth and paraphernalia. The specific drugs and other contraband were not disclosed in news reports.

“We will not stand for trafficking in the Bartholomew County Jail,” stated Chief Deputy Major Chris Lane. “We will investigate to the fullest and make sure those who are in our jail with contraband and those who bring drugs and other contraband in from the outside, are held accountable,” he added.

While strip and body cavity searches are the most invasive types of searches, they are an unfortunate necessity given the number of times contraband has been found when people are booked into jails – sometimes with fatal outcomes, as was the case with Lorraine Gardner in Marion County. 

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Sources: scoopnashville.com, wfla.com, tcpalm.com, kfor.com, jhnewsandguide.com, leaderpost.com, bustedcoverage.com, newser.com, thesmokinggun.com, nypost.com, clickorlando.com, walb.com, wsvx.com, syracuse.com

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