A Monroe County jail inmate says a deputy with the Sheriff’s Office illegally stripped-searched him in 2014 outside his home in an investigation that turned up two bags of cocaine.
In a federal civil-rights complaint filed in U.S. District Court from the county jail Jan. 18, Jerome Durham, Jr., 30, of Big Pine Key accuses Deputy Ian Cooper of violating his rights by taking off his shorts and the boxers he wore underneath.
“He took me in the middle of the street then stripped me while I was detained,” Durham wrote in a brief, handwritten complaint. “He took my shorts and boxers off me.”
What Durham doesn’t say in the complaint is that Cooper found two plastic bags inside his boxers that held a total of 35 grams of cocaine.
In the arrest report, Cooper wrote that he was serving a felony warrant on Durham at his home, 31251 Avenue E, on Feb. 22, 2014, and immediately handcuffed Durham when he appeared.
“While I was searching him I felt two lumps in the rear of his shorts near his lower buttocks,” Cooper wrote. “I then asked what it was and he said, ‘Cocaine.’”
Cooper said he had Durham “remove his shorts” and found the cocaine hidden “in the interior of his boxer shorts.”
A federal magistrate said Durham’s “terse” complaint doesn’t show he was subjected to unreasonable force or an illegal search and recommends dismissal of the lawsuit.
“He wholly fails to allege that Officer Cooper did not have probable cause to search and arrest him,” Magistrate Judge P.A. White wrote on Jan. 25.
Deputy Becky Herrin, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office, said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation but she provided the strip-search policy:
A strip search is defined as having an arrested person remove or arrange clothing “so as to permit a visual or manual inspection of the genitals, buttocks, anus, breasts” and the deputy requesting a strip search “must be able to articulate to the on-duty supervisor the probable cause leading them to believing such as search is necessary.”
Such a search is only to be done “on premises where the search cannot be observed” by anyone not involved in the search, the policy states.
In June 2015, Durham was sentenced to three years in prison for cocaine dealing. He did about one year and four months before he was released, state records show.
Durham was arrested June 21 on Big Pine for allegedly having a controlled substance without a prescription and for violating his parole. He is currently locked up at the Stock Island Detention Center on $152,500 bond.
Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen