Thursday, December 20, 2012

Texas DPS sued over roadside cavity search

On a sultry July evening in Dallas Angel and Ashley Dobbs were cruising around when one of them tossed a cigarette out of the car. The state trooper behind them, David Farrell, flipped on his lights and pulled the women over. But she didn't just give them a ticket for littering.

Claiming that he smelled the odor of marijuana in the car, the trooper asked the ladies if they had anything illegal in the car. The ladies said no. End of story? Not quite.

The trooper then called a female officer, Kelley Helleson, who put on a pair of blue latex gloves and conducted cavity searches on the two women on the side of the road - in full view of passing traffic. According to the women, Trooper Helleson's search was painful and humiliating. She didn't even bother changing gloves between searches.

And guess what Trooper Helleson found?

Absolutely nothing. The driver, Angel Dobbs, then had the nerve to pass the roadside coordination exercises the trooper asked her to perform.

And when it was all said and done, the troopers didn't even apologize to Angel and her niece.

Now the women are striking back. In a lawsuit filed against the Texas Department of Public Safety, the ladies allege they were molested by Trooper Helleson and that the DPS had a long-standing pattern of illegal strip and cavity searches.

To think that this entire nightmare came about because a police officer claimed he smelled marijuana. How many cases have we seen in which a car is tossed based upon an officer supposedly smelling marijuana? So many violations of our rights come about because one officer claims to have seen, heard or smelt something that led him to believe the something illegal was going on.

It's just an excuse. The police pull someone over. They suspect he's got something in the car he shouldn't. They get him out of the car and toss it. Then, lo and behold, they find the Holy Grail. A dime bag in the center console. Throw in that part about the smell of marijuana and BAM! it's a good bust.

There aren't any cameras. There aren't any witnesses. Besides, they found the dope in the car. He's guilty. Who cares if the cops conducted an illegal search?

But this time there was a video. This time there was a witness. And, most importantly, this time there wasn't anything in the car.

All it takes is one stop like that to shed a little light on what really goes down in the middle of the night. A perfect storm of elements and the cops are caught with their pants around their ankles.

It's bad enough that the police get away with lying about their conduct on the street. It's even worse that most judges will take the word of a police officer over a defendant without giving it a second thought. Judges like to tell you that the defendant has a motive to lie - but, berobed one, so does the officer.

There was no excuse for what happened on the side of the highway in Dallas this past July. There is no excuse for what goes on in airports across this nation, either.

There was no probable cause for the search. Trooper Farrell knew that. Trooper Helleson sexually assaulted Angel and Ashley Dobbs. There is no excuse for her conduct. Instead of being on the receiving end of a lawsuit seeking damages, Trooper Helleson should be in criminal court trying to stay out of prison and contemplating how humiliating it would be to have to register as a sex offender.

And, in the end, Trooper Helleson did what she did because she could do it.

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