VICTORY! THE ACLU-MN JUST WON A SETTLEMENT OF $140,000 PLUS REFORMS TO PREVENT FUTURE DISGRACEFUL PUBLIC BODY-CAVITY SEARCHES. WE THANK CLIENT KELLI JO TORRES FOR HER BRAVERY.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota sued the Rock County Sheriff and two deputies who tried to forcibly conduct a vaginal search on the side of a public road in below-freezing temperatures.
The ACLU-MN filed Kelli Jo Torres v. Dallas Hamm et al. in U.S. District Court in Minnesota on Wednesday. The lawsuit names Rock County Deputies Dallas Hamm and Shelley Douty, Sheriff Evan Verbrugge and the county for violating the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as state law.
In November of 2018, Deputy Hamm pulled a driver over in Luverne for a dangling air freshener. He searched the driver without probable cause, then turned to passenger Kelli Torres. Deputies Hamm and Douty directed Kelli to stand next to Hamm’s squad car, without her coat, outside of the dash-cam’s view. It was 9 degrees out.
For more than 30 minutes, the two deputies yelled at her and tried to perform a vaginal search on the I-90 on-ramp – even though federal law prohibits strip searches and body cavity searches of people detained for traffic offenses without probable cause. Deputies had none, the lawsuit said.
On dash-cam audio, Kelli refused to take part in the illegal cavity search on the roadside at least 25 times. She told deputies she was wearing only leggings without underwear and felt violated.
“I’d appreciate if it you wouldn’t put your hands all up in me,” Kelli said, telling the deputies, “I don’t think you can do that to me” and that “it feels like you’re grabbing my crotch.”
Kelli begged them repeatedly to take her into the station or hospital to search her “the right way.” Deputies ignored her repeated pleas for basic dignity.
The ACLU-MN is suing on six counts – violation of due process, conducting an unreasonable search, use of excessive force, failure to train officers, unlawful seizure and false imprisonment. We are asking the court to find the defendants’ conduct – including a lack of training and supervision – violated the law; to award Kelli Torres damages; and to prevent future unlawful conduct and retaliation against her.