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Houston Police officers will not be tried over invasive body cavity search of black woman

Harris County Courthouse

Houston Police officers will not be tried over invasive body cavity search of black woman

Two Houston police officers who were accused of going too far with a roadside body cavity search after they thought they smelled weed on Charnesia Corley in 2015 have been cleared by a Harris County grand jury.

Deputies William Strong and Ronaldine Pierre were originally indicted in June 2016 after pulling Charnesia Corley over for a traffic stop in a gas station parking lot and ordering a strip search after they smelled marijuana in the car. Corley, who is black, has said the female officer who conducted the search penetrated her vagina looking for marijuana.

According to a federal civil rights lawsuit Corley has filed against Harris County, the officers ordered her to pull down her pants. Corley said no because she wasn’t wearing any underwear. A female deputy allegedly responded with “so?”

Police then took off her pants and shined a light into her vagina. Seeing nothing, the female deputy proceeded to do an 11-minute body cavity search that involved penetration.

“I felt like they sexually assaulted me. I really do. I felt disgusted, downgraded and humiliated,” Corley said to ABC 13 Eyewitness News.

Police officials said Corley was not penetrated and the officers performed “a visual strip search.” Police also said the body cavity search did yield 0.2 grams of marijuana. Corley was charged with drug possession and resisting arrest, but after reviewing the case prosecutors dropped all charges against her, calling the search “offensive and shocking.”

But the office of District Attorney Kim Ogg presented new evidence to a second grand jury, which cleared the officers earlier this month. It was Ogg’s predecessor, Devon Anderson, who originally charged the deputies.

Ogg’s office declined to say what the new evidence was, saying that the rules of the grand jury prohibited them from talking about it. Corley’s attorney said that evidence was medical records the state had always had.

That attorney, Sam Cammack, has called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to pursue charges against the deputies.

The chief of the Harris County District Attorney’s Civil Rights Division, Natasha Sinclair, told the Texas Observer that, although the charges were dismissed, it does not mean the office condones what happened.

“We don’t condone this type of search at all,” Sinclair said. “This is by no means us saying this is an appropriate way to conduct a search.”

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office had already cleared the two officers, and former Sheriff Ed Hickman expressed unhappiness about the original decision to indict. The office of current Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the decision to drop the charges backs up the Internal Affairs investigation that found the deputies violated no policies.

The female officer who actually did the search wasn’t charged because she was ordered to do it, Cammack said.

Corley has sued Harris County in federal court alleging that her civil rights were violated. That case is still pending. Courts have generally ruled that this type of body cavity search is only legal when cops can show that waiting for a judicial search warrant would result in the loss or destruction of evidence.

Ogg no longer prosecutes cases involving such a small amount of drugs, instead sending them to a diversion program.

A law went into effect in 2015 requiring Texas police to obtain search warrants before conducting these type of roadside body cavity searches. But critics say the practice still occurs and police do not face any criminal penalty if they violate it.

Thanks to Josie Duffy Rice.

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