Enough Suspicion For A Roadside Anal Probe In South Carolina
Apr. 4, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Video surfaced of a black couple being strip searched and anally probed for drugs by white cops in South Carolina. People were outraged, because video is hard to ignore, and this particular video is especially egregious when you hear the cops expressing their disgust about not finding any drugs or contraband, and disappointment in having to “turn them loose.”
The problem with the outrage is that it displayed a failure to grasp history, that as offensive as this is, it’s hardly the first time such an outrage happened. The absurd conduct of the Aiken County, South Carolina cops comes from over two decades of the legal system turning a blind eye to the concept of “reasonable suspicion.”
Cops gained the “reasonable suspicion” excuse when the Supreme Court reviewed the legality of locking a woman in a room for a day until she defecated in view of Customs officers, allegedly for the purpose of stopping drugs from entering the country. Seven justices deemed this practice okay because drugs are Very Bad Things. Since people entering the country often crossed the border with drugs in their butts, it was perfectly reasonable under these limited circumstances for customs agents to have a “reasonable suspicion” that a person crossing the border might their anus inspected with extreme prejudice.
It’s not surprising the Supremes would take such a stance. It was the eighties, and our country’s default stance on narcotics was “Just Say No.” Never you mind that person’s last name was Montoya De Hernandez. It’s just this one teensy circumstance, and it’s better to stop drugs than treat people like human beings. Justice William Brennan wasn’t too probe-happy, and his dissent was the canary in the coal mine warning us of a world that allowed Hicks and Pontoon’s assault.
The nature and duration of the detention here may well have been tolerable for spoiled meat or diseased animals, but not for human beings held on simple suspicion of criminal activity.…I do not imagine that decent and law-abiding international travelers have yet reached the point where they “expect” to be thrown into locked rooms and ordered to excrete into wastebaskets, held incommunicado until they cooperate, or led away in handcuffs to the nearest hospital for exposure to various medical procedures – all on nothing more than the “reasonable” suspicions of low-ranking enforcement agents… History bears testimony that by such disregard are the rights of liberty extinguished, heedlessly at first, then stealthily, and brazenly in the end.” (Emphasis added.)
Fast forward to the year 2012, when the Supremes pondered the legality of routinely strip searching prisoners absent justification. In the case of Albert Florence, arrested, strip searched twice, and jailed over traffic fines (that, as it happened, he had already paid), the Court said “policy” set by corrections officers mattered more than basic human dignity. There was no good reason for subjecting Florence to a “routine” strip search twice, but a search where you “turn, squat and cough” is okay because prisoners sometimes carry contraband into jails. Florence meant a vague propensity mattered more than human dignity.
Which leads us to the present day, and the misfortunes of Hicks and Pontoon. This time, the “reasonable suspicion” was a police officer recognized a black man from his time working a narcotics unit. The “reasonable suspicion” excuse justified bringing in a drug dog, forcing Pontoon to submit to an anal probe, and strip searching Hicks on the street.
After the search of the car comes up empty, Medlin tells the female officer to “search her real good,” referring to Hicks. The personal search of Hicks…allegedly involved exposing Hicks’s breasts on the side of the road in a populated area…in direct view of the three male officers. That search, too, produced no contraband.
The officers then turn their attention to Pontoon. Medlin asks Pontoon to get out of the car. He cuffs him and begins to pat him down. Toward the end of the first video, at about the 12:46:30 mark, he tells Pontoon: “You’ve got something here right between your legs. There’s something hard right there between your legs.” Medlin says that he’s going to “put some gloves on.”
The anal probe happens out of direct view of the camera, but the audio leaves little doubt about what’s happening. Pontoon at one point says that one of the officers is grabbing his hemorrhoids…At about 12:47:15 in the video, the audio actually suggests that two officers may have inserted fingers into Pontoon’s rectum, as one asks, “What are you talking about, right here?” The other replies, “Right straight up in there.”
Pontoon then again tells the officers that they’re pushing on a hemorrhoid. One officer responds, “If that’s a hemorrhoid, that’s a hemorrhoid, all right? But that don’t feel like no hemorrhoid to me.”
The officers apparently continue to search Pontoon’s rectum for another three minutes. They found no contraband. At 12:50:25, Medlin tells Pontoon to turn around and explains that he suspects him because he recognized him from when he worked narcotics. “Now I know you from before, from when I worked dope. I seen you. That’s why I put a dog on the car.”
Officer Medlin thought he recognized Elijah Pontoon from his time working in a drug unit. In the cop’s twisted mind, that recognition, despite the complete absence of any factual basis to suggest that what was happening then, was good enough reason to assume that Pontoon or Hicks had to have drugs on them. It was sufficient justification for Aiken County law enforcement to violate and humiliate both on a street. It was good enough reason to stick police fingers in a human being’s anus.
When Medlin saw Pontoon, he stopped Pontoon’s newly-purchased car and got a drug dog to “hit” on the car so Medlin and his friends could search it, based on a vague detail in Medlin’s memory. Once the car search proved fruitless, Medlin’s assumptive “cause,” based on nothing more than Pontoon’s possible past association with drugs, justified strip searching Hicks and fondling Pontoon’s hemorrhoids.
The concept of reasonable suspicion is exceptionally elastic, allowing police to manufacture it out of pretty much nothing. But even “pretty much nothing” requires something, some fact, some allegation, something, that gives rise to even the tiniest reasonable belief that a person is engaging in crime. Here, there was nothing. Absolutely nothing. Maybe Pontoon had something to do with drugs in the past? That is meaningless as to what suspicion exists in the future. He’s not fair game for an anal probe whenever the mood strikes a cop.
And not to belabor the point, but this isn’t just a matter of reasonable suspicion to ask hard questions, even enjoy a free pat down. This was reasonable suspicion to perform one of the most dehumanizing, offensive, intrusive acts a cop could possibly do. And Medlin did it in a way that was as disgusting, disgraceful and outrageous as humanly possible.
Pontoon and Hicks filed a federal lawsuit over this search. Similar suits, including one where a fifty-four year old man was strip-searched, anally probed, and forced to undergo a colonoscopy have cost taxpayers millions. It doesn’t matter whether Hicks or Pontoon recover money at this point, because Aiken County’s money can’t return Pontoon and Hicks’ dignity. Our history of deferring to law enforcement over the Fourth Amendment means a cop can now jam their fingers up your ass whenever they please, “reasonable suspicion” be damned.