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Baltimore police strip-searched a woman in public for a broken taillight

Baltimore police officers routinely discriminate against blacks, repeatedly use excessive force and are not adequately held accountable for misconduct, according to a harshly critical Justice Department report being presented Wednesday.
Baltimore police officers routinely discriminate against blacks, repeatedly use excessive force and are not adequately held accountable for misconduct, according to a harshly critical Justice Department report being presented Wednesday. AP

It started when the woman was pulled over for a routine traffic stop for a broken taillight. It ended with her strip-searched on the side of a road, with a female officer even searching her anal cavity in public.

While one of the worst examples of officer misconduct in the Department of Justice’s report on the Baltimore Police Department, it’s far from the only one. The report, released Wednesday after a 14-month investigation, concludes the BPD engages in a pattern of practice of unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests; unfairly targeting black people; excessive force; and retaliation.

“This pattern or practice is driven by systemic deficiencies in BPD’s policies, training, supervision and accountability structures that fail to equip officers with the tools they need to police effectively and within the bounds of the federal law,” the report concludes.

In the incident, the officers ordered the woman to exit her vehicle, stand on the side of the road and take her clothes off. The woman asked the officer in charge, “I really gotta take all my clothes off?”

The officer told her yes and says he had a female officer search the woman. The female officer put on latex gloves and searched the woman’s bra area before pulling down her underwear and searching her anal cavity.

“The search occurred in full view of the street, although the supervising male officer claimed he ‘turned away’ and did not watch the woman disrobe,” read the report by the DOJ.

The officers found nothing. The woman was released without charges and received a repair order for her broken taillight.

When the woman filed a complaint with the department her story was corroborated by an investigation. The officer in charge was given a “simple reprimand” and could not serve as an officer in charge until he was “properly trained.”

In another incident in January 2016, the same officer was accused of strip-searching a black teenager in public. The teenager said in a complaint that the officer was looking for his older brother, who was suspected of dealing drugs. The officer allegedly pushed the teenager against a wall to frisk him, and when that didn’t yield any narcotics, the officer took off the teen’s jacket and sweatshirt to frisk him again. Then he told the boy to give his phone to his girlfriend, who was standing nearby, so he could “check” him.

The officer pulled down the boy’s pants and boxer shorts to search him “in full view of the street,” according to the teenager’s account. The officer’s report claims he found narcotics during a “consensual pat down,” but no drugs were ever provided to the teen’s public defender and the charges against him were dropped due to lack of evidence.

The teen filed a “lengthy complaint” against the officer and identified several witnesses who he said would corroborate his story. Shortly after filing the complaint, the teenager said the same officer approached him by a McDonald’s by the boy’s home, pushed him against a wall, pulled down his pants and grabbed his genitals. No charges were filed against the teenager in the second incident, which the boy told the DOJ he believed was in retaliation for the complaint.

The report listed no punishment for the officer in that incident.

Most of officers mentioned in the report were not punished for incidents listed in the DOJ report. Those that were typically received only reprimands. Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis announced Wednesday after the DOJ report became public that the officers who committed “egregious violations” have been fired, according to the Associated Press.

Other examples in the report show officers were encouraged by their superiors to clear streets of any loitering, particularly if the loiterers were black men.

1) While federal investigators were in a police vehicle for a ride along, a sergeant told an officer to “make something up” to question and disperse young black men in the area.

The sergeant told the patrol officer to stop the group of young men on a public street corner, question them and order them to disperse. When the officer replied that he had no valid reason to stop the group, the sergeant told him, “then make something up.”

Department of Justice officials were in the car for a ride along while those statements were made.

There were several examples of officers ordered to “clear corners.” One sergeant wrote about the practice, “I used to say at roll call in NE when I ran the shift: Do not treat criminals like citizens. Citizens want that corner cleared.”

2) Officers had a template for arresting people standing near a public housing development who can’t give a “valid reason” for being there. The template left blanks for the date, time, name and location of the arrest, but the words “black male” were already filled in for a description of the subject.

“The supervisor’s template thus presumes that individuals arrested for trespassing will be African American,” the report stated.

3) A black man was forced to the ground, struck, tased and arrested for being in a high-crime area. The officer said he stopped him because he thought the man was “seeking out a victim of opportunity,” despite no evidence to prove this. The man was released without charges.

The officer approached the man, who was walking in a “high crime area” and wearing a hooded sweatshirt on a cold night in January.

“The officer lacked any specific reason to believe the man was engaged in criminal activity, but ... the officer ‘thought it could be possible that the individual could be out seeking a victim of opportunity,’” the DOJ report states. “This unsupported speculation furnishes no basis to conduct a stop.”

But multiple officers questioned the man and seized a knife the man told them he was carrying. When the man asked for his knife back, the officers told him to sit down and forced him to the ground as the man resisted and said, “You can’t arrest me.”

Two officers tried to handcuff him while the other punched him in the face, back and ribs. Other officers arrived on scene and one tased the man twice to keep him from “escaping the scene.”

The man had to be transported to the hospital and was never charged with a crime. Following an investigation into the incident, the sergeant’s report concluded that the “officers showed great restraint and professionalism.”

4) A black man was chased, tased multiple times, taken to the ground and frisked for walking in an area “known for violent crime and narcotic distribution” and fleeing from an officer who tried to question him.

The officer stopped the man and asked him about what he was doing there, and the man ran away. The officer chased the man and deployed his taser because the man “refused to comply with my orders to stop,” according to the officer’s report.

The officer’s account gives no reason to believe the man was armed or engaged in illegal activity, according to the DOJ report.

The officer tased the man a total of three times, took him to the ground, detained him and frisked him. The man was later released without charges.

No punishment was listed for the officer.

The death of Freddie Gray put the spotlight on the plight of the West Baltimore neighborhood Sandtown-Wichester. Local civil rights leader Dr. Helena Hicks and community activist Doni Glover described in the weeks following Gray’s death how decade

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