Residents approached Atlanta media last week to complain about illegal roadside strip searches at the hands of multiple police departments in Georgia. A subsequent investigative report confirmed their allegations.
WSB-TV in Atlanta obtained dash-cam video of one traffic stop in which an officer turned his attention to one of the passengers after coming up empty on a consensual vehicle search for drugs.
Police in Forest Park, Ga., pulled over the wife — not named in the report — of Terry Phillips, who was riding as a passenger, on suspicion of driving with a suspended registration. But instead of conducting their business through the window, they ordered Phillips out of the car.
“He was like, ‘Just unbuckle all your clothes,’ and put his hands down inside my pants,” said Terry Phillips.
Forest Park Police had pulled over Phillips’ wife for a suspended registration.
Phillips consented to a search, however on the officer’s dashboard camera recording Phillips can clearly be heard protesting when he realized the extent of the officer’s intentions.
“That’s illegal, man, you can’t do that. You can’t do that,” said Phillips to the officer. The officer continued.
“That’s a general strip-search, which you’re not allowed to do,” said Mark Bullman, Phillips’ attorney. “Unless it’s an emergency or it’s done in a controlled environment by professional people were other people aren’t there to look in a public setting. …You can’t be moving people’s clothing and opening them, particularly in situations where there’s not been a custodial arrest.”
Police must obtain a warrant to conduct a strip search, and those must be performed under controlled circumstances, after a suspect has been taken into custody, in order for any uncovered evidence to stand up to admissibility challenges during prosecution. This was just fishing — and it isn’t an isolated occurrence.
“Driver after driver told investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer officers searched inside their pants while they were stopped for minor traffic violations,” reports WSB-TV. “In several cases, the invasive searches targeted passengers who were riding in the car.”