Two off-duty Minneapolis police officers performed an illegal strip-search when they pulled down a man's pants and underwear on the street during a 2:30 a.m. traffic stop, a U.S. District judge has ruled.
Judge Donovan Frank ruled that officers David O'Connor and Daniel Anderson violated Recardo Meeks' Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches when they exposed and probed his buttocks in March 2009.
A security guard caught the entire incident on video, which likely swung the case in Meeks' favor, one of his attorneys said.
The morning of the traffic stop, O'Connor and Anderson were in uniform, but working off-duty security at Little Earth of United Tribes Native American housing complex in south Minneapolis. The officers said they pulled Meeks over for speeding and swerving, then detected the aroma of marijuana coming from his vehicle.
While patting Meeks down and searching for contraband, O'Connor claimed to have "felt a large bulge between [Meeks'] buttocks cheeks" and "started becoming concerned" because he believed that Meeks had a gun concealed between his buttocks, the officer said during his deposition.
O'Connor and Anderson handcuffed Meeks, pulled down his trousers and underpants and inspected his lower-body cavity with the aid of a flashlight, leaving him exposed from the waist down for at least three minutes on a public street. When the officers discovered tissue paper between Meeks' buttocks cheeks, O'Connor conducted a cavity search, with rubber gloves, removing the tissue and several "nuggets" of marijuana.
The entire episode, including footage of Anderson smiling, was caught on surveillance video by a Little Earth security guard.
"No reasonable person would have perceived it to be a weapon pursuant to the pat-down search, as evidenced by the video," Frank wrote in his opinion.
The judge also determined that the officers made no attempt to protect his privacy. A "reach-in" into Meeks' pants would have been less invasive, according to Frank's opinion.
"It's unusual for a court to say [an action] is unquestionably a constitutional violation," said Andrew Muller, one of Meeks' attorneys. "It speaks to the magnitude of how far out of bounds these officers went."
The city attorney's office declined to comment on Frank's ruling because Meeks' lawsuit is still active. He is suing the city for $1 million in damages plus attorney fees. A jury will decide the amount to be awarded in December, Muller said.
The city's response to Meeks' lawsuit denies that O'Connor and Anderson did anything unconstitutional.
Police department policy requires that cavity searches be performed only by medical personnel in a medical facility. For a strip search, a warrant must be obtained or an arrest made unless officers determine there is probable cause that contraband, weapons or evidence exists and will be destroyed or lost.
Meeks is serving a prison term at Moose Lake after he pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491