CA8: Strip search of female detainee on parking lot stated § 1983 claim

Nearly public strip search of female detainee on an open parking lot by a female officer also berating her with a male officer nearby stated a claim and overcame qualified immunity. Robinson v. Hawkins, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 26772 (8th Cir. Sept. 5, 2019):

In Williams, officers transported a suspect to a police station parking lot after a pat-down search revealed the presence of potential contraband. Id. at 975. An officer then searched the suspect in the lot—opening his pants, reaching inside his underwear with a gloved hand, and retrieving a large amount of drugs from near his genitals. Id. The lot was enclosed by a brick building and a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. Id. We held that the officers had not acted unreasonably in searching the suspect outdoors, declining “to adopt a bright-line rule that when a detainee has been secured, and travel to a station-house is possible, an on-street intimate inspection is an unconstitutional, unreasonable search.” Id. at 977 (cleaned up). We found that the lot, though outdoors, was “partially secluded” and that the suspect’s genitals “remained obscured from the view of passers-by.” Id. We also distinguished the search as less intrusive than those “involv[ing] … penetration or public exposure of genitals.” Id. at 976.

. . .
Taking the facts in the light most favorable to Robinson, a reasonable jury could conclude that the search was unreasonable in both scope and manner. Robinson alleges that Officer Hawkins pulled down her underwear while she was pushed against an oily tractor-trailer in an open-air parking lot, touched the inside and outside of her vagina and her anus as a male officer watched, and yelled insults and expletives at her during the search. Furthermore, Officer Hawkins’s own testimony reasonably supported the presence of contraband under Robinson’s garments (rather than inside her genitals), and she had already retrieved the marijuana from Robinson’s underwear when she proceeded to push Robinson against the trailer and expose and probe Robinson’s genitals.

We cannot say that Officer Hawkins’s search was reasonable as a matter of law, and we conclude that questions of material fact exist as to whether Officer Hawkins violated Robinson’s constitutional rights.

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