Roadside Strip Search Lawsuit Ends in Settlement
Charnesia Corley filed a federal lawsuit against Harris County alleging her constitutional rights were violated during a late-night strip search. Corley was pulled over by Harris County Sheriff’s deputies for allegedly running a stop sign around 10:30 p.m. June 20, 2015. She pulled her vehicle into a convenience store parking lot and began speaking with the deputies.
The deputies believed they smelled marijuana in the course of their conversation, so they proceeded to search Corley’s car. When they found none inside, the deputies called in a female officer to perform a “visual strip search.” Corley waited approximately an hour and a half in the parking lot for her to arrive, and when the officer got to the scene, she asked her to remove her pants.
“She pulled my pants down, and then told me to bend over,” Corley explained. “So, you know, I kind of hesitated. I bent over, and she proceeded to stick her fingers in me.”
Court documents in the case stated the officers “forcibly threw Ms. Corley to the ground, while she was still handcuffed, pinned her down with her legs spread apart, threatened to break her legs, and without consent penetrated her vagina in a purported search for marijuana.”
“That was extreme, to pull my clothes down, in front of people,” Corley can be heard saying in a dashcam video that was recovered over the course of the trial. “People were watching – you didn’t see people walking around?”‘
Eventually, the officers found 0.02 ounces, or a little more than half a gram, in her genitals. Corley was arrested and charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana and resisting arrest. The charges against her were later dropped.
Corley said in an interview about the incident, she had her legs up in the air for ten minutes as deputies searched her for marijuana. “I felt like they sexually assaulted me. I really do. I felt disgusted, downgraded and humiliated,” she said.
Amid the allegations, two deputies were indicted in June 2016 on charges of official oppression. An attorney for one of the two officers named in the civil suit, Robin McIlhenny, asserted Corley was “never penetrated,” and “never inappropriately handled.”
Ed Gonzalez, the Harris County Sheriff, released a statement on behalf of the department. “I understand and respect the community’s concerns regarding the parking lot search of a female suspect during a June 2015 traffic stop,” Gonzalez said. “I want to be emphatically clear that today’s Harris County Sheriff’s Office is fully committed to ensuring that every resident of our community is treated with dignity and respect, even if they are suspected of committing a crime.”
The charges against the officers were ultimately dismissed last year. Now, County Commissioners have agreed to pay Corley $183,000 for her to drop the lawsuit altogether, according to documents provided by the Harris County Attorney’s Office.
The settlement marks the end of a lengthy battle, and The Harris County Attorney’s Office said of its terms, “The matter has been resolved by mutual agreement. The settlement was agreed upon after a lengthy negotiation process.”