by Matt Clarke
On August 4, 2017, prosecutors dropped criminal charges against two Harris County sheriff's deputies who publicly performed a body cavity search on a Black woman on June 20, 2015. This prompted her attorney, Sam Cammaack, to release a dash-cam video recording of the incident he calls "rape by cop."
Charnesia Corley was a 20-year-old student when the two deputies initiated a traffic stop, alleging she had failed to fully halt at a stop sign and did not use turn signals. Claiming to have smelled burning marijuana, they ordered her out of her car in a Texaco gas station parking lot. The video recording shows that she was stripped below the waist and examined for 11 minutes by a female officer using a flashlight.
According to a federal lawsuit filed by Corley, "[wjhen one of the Deputies tried to insert her fingers into Ms. Corley's vagina, Ms. Corley protested. At that point, the Deputies 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."
The deputies maintain they never penetrated Corley. They were cleared by an internal investigation and are still working. One is assigned to patrol.
Although a female officer conducted the body cavity search, the video recording shows two male officers standing where they can easily view the search. After the abusive procedure was completed, Corley was arrested and charged with possession of 0.02 ounces of marijuana, a misdemeanor, and resisting arrest. Later, the prosecutor dropped the charges.
The district attorney's office charged Harris County Sheriff's Deputies Ronaldine Pierre and William Strong with official oppression. However, on the day they were scheduled to stand trial, the case was apparently re-presented to the grand jury, along with new "secret" evidence. As a result of those proceedings, the prosecutor dropped the criminal charges against the deputies.
The Harris County District Attorney's office refused to comment on these developments, but Cammack says there is nothing to comment on.
"The new evidence they're claiming they had had nothing to do with any material fact in the case," said Cammack.
Since the incident, the Harris County Sheriff's Department and Texas Department of Public Safety have promulgated policies and the Texas Legislature has enacted a state law, all of which prohibit such impromptu roadside strip and body cavity searches.
"No one in this office stands by the search the way it was conducted...," said Harris County prosecutor Natasha Sinclar. "However, bad decisions, bad judgment may not rise to the level of a criminal offense."
"When they're violating the bodies of Black women, I think there's this perception in society that that's par for the course, that that's to be expected and that combines with these profiles of black women as drug couriers, as people who are always hiding drugs in some part of their body," said Andrea J. Ritchie, author of Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color.
Meanwhile, a Black couple from South Carolina, Lakeya Hicks and Elijah Pontoon, settled for $150,000 a lawsuit brought against four white police officers who allegedly strip searched them on the side of a public road in October 2014. Hicks said her breasts were exposed to public viewing and Pontoon suffered an anal cavity search. Their version of events was supported by audio recordings from a dash cam. The search did not turn upany drugs.
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