A judge approved a settlement Tuesday against the Rock County Sheriff and two of its deputies who tried to forcibly conduct a vaginal search on the side of a public road in below-freezing temperatures.
In November of 2018, Deputy Dallas Hamm pulled a driver over in Luverne for a dangling air freshener. He searched the driver, then turned to passenger Kelli Jo Torres. Hamm told Torres that his female partner, Shelley Douty, would search her. For more than 30 minutes, the deputies yelled at Torres and tried to perform a vaginal search on the I-90 on-ramp – even though Torres was the passenger.
Throughout the encounter, the deputies made Torres stand outside the squad car without her coat, outside of the dashcam’s view. It was 9 degrees out.
On dashcam audio, Torres refused to take part in the roadside cavity search at least 25 times, telling deputies she felt violated. She begged them repeatedly to take her into the station or hospital to search her “the right way.”
The settlement the ACLU of Minnesota won for Torres includes $140,000 and reforms such as updated policies and training for proper dashcam usage and body searches; supervisory review of stops and arrests; a revised complaint process; and clearer definitions for searches.
“I felt very violated by the whole situation,” Torres said. “I repeatedly asked them to do the right thing. I hope this settlement sends a message to law enforcement everywhere that public strip searches are not OK, and they can’t treat anyone like this.”
“Rock County deputies used a dangling air freshener as an excuse to stop the vehicle, and had no reason to search passenger Kelli Jo Torres, let alone shamefully conduct a body-cavity search on the side of a road,” said ACLU-MN attorney Clare Diegel. “We expect that the training, discipline and policy reforms that our client so bravely fought for will prevent this terrible situation from ever happening again.”
The lawsuit Kelli Jo Torres v. Dallas Hamm et al. filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota named the two deputies, Rock County Sheriff Evan Verbrugge and the county for violating the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as state law.
TRIGGER WARNING: You can view and download the video, which contains disturbing audio of the attempted vaginal search, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mo_9Y81OSVU.