Aiken County residents: Police did an illegal cavity search

AP News
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Posted: Apr 02, 2016 4:28 PM

AIKEN, S.C. (AP) — Two South Carolina residents are suing the City of Aiken and its department of public safety over what they say was an illegal cavity search in broad daylight.

The Aiken Standard reports (http://bit.ly/237KaTE) Elijah Pontoon and Lakey Hicks filed the lawsuit last September. It was moved to federal court in November. Hicks and Pontoon are seeking actual, punitive and consequential damages and legal fees.

According to the lawsuit, Pontoon and Hicks say they were illegally stopped by officers for a paper car tag and searched without consent. In addition to the cavity search, the complaint says a female officer exposed Hicks' breasts on the side of the road, with a search performed in the presence of three male officers.

Capt. David Turno said in a statement that the city denies the allegations. Turno wasn't available Saturday for further comment. Other officials with the department responded to the lawsuit by saying their officers were working within the course and scope of their job.

Both parties have asked for a jury trial. A trial date has not been set, but attorneys in the case have until Nov. 29 to complete mediation attempts, according to a scheduling order filed March 29.

The traffic stop was recorded on a dashboard camera, and an edited version was posted on The Washington Post website. It was posted with other videos as part of an investigative report on police abuse in South Carolina.

According to the lawsuit, Pontoon and Hicks were stopped by police for a "paper tag" on their vehicle on Oct. 2, 2014. Hicks, who was driving, said the officer who stopped them asked to see a bill of sale for the car, then asked Pontoon for identification.

Hicks' information was returned to her after the documentation was verified, the lawsuit said, but moments later, the officer ordered the two out of the car and placed Pontoon in handcuffs. The officer told Pontoon that because of "your past history," he summoned a police dog to the traffic stop to check the car.

When Pontoon objected to what he described as harassment, the lawsuit said the officer told him, "You gonna pay for this one boy."

The plaintiffs said the dog arrived and was guided around their car. Several minutes later, a female police officer showed up and is told by the first officer to search Hicks. She was searched out of range of the dashboard camera video. Nothing was found.

A minute later, the first officer instructs a colleague to put on surgical-type gloves to search Pontoon.

In the complaint filed with police, Pontoon and Hicks said the officer who stopped them knew Pontoon from a prior driving offense, which is why the car was searched.

After providing Pontoon and Hicks with warnings, the pair was allowed to leave. The suit doesn't say what they were warned about.

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Information from: Aiken Standard, http://www.aikenstandard.com