Attorney for Charnesia Corley, who was pulled over for allegedly running a stop sign, releases video showing her examined while naked below the waist
By Tom Dart
The attorney for a black woman subjected to an invasive and lengthy roadside strip search by Texas police has released a dashcam video of the incident that he says shows her treatment was a form of rape.
“When you stick your fingers in somebody without their effective consent, that’s rape in any state that I know of,” said Sam Cammack, an attorney for Charnesia Corley.
Cammack made the video public after two Harris County deputies, Ronaldine Pierre and William Strong, were cleared of official oppression by a grand jury earlier this month. They are still with the sheriff’s department. Cammack wants an independent prosecutor to look into the case; a federal civil rights trial is set for January.
Corley was pulled over for allegedly running a stop sign and failing to use turn signals. In the video, she is made to stand, handcuffed, outside her car while two officers look inside. She is then searched with the rear passenger-side door open, partially obscuring the camera’s view of her body.
Corley is then put on the ground, naked below the waist, and examined for about 11 minutes by a female officer using a flashlight. The incident happened in the parking lot of a Texaco garage in Houston late on a June evening in 2015, when she was a 20-year-old student.
The federal lawsuit against Harris County alleges: “When 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.”
Corley was arrested and charged with possession of 0.02 ounces of marijuana and resisting arrest; the charges were dropped by the Harris County district attorney’s office.
“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, drug concealers, 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.
“And so I think those things kind of combine in the minds of grand jurors to: ‘Well, isn’t this how we wage the war on drugs, isn’t this what we think black women are doing all the time anyway? So we’re not going to hold this officer liable for basically doing the job we told them to do.’”
In response to a previous incident, Texas lawmakers passed a bill that went into effect a couple of months after Corley’s arrest. The measure prohibits officers from conducting roadside body cavity searches without a search warrant. But Ritchie is worried that the current national political climate will lead to continuing invasive searches.
“It’s unfortunately a very consistent characteristic of the war on drugs,” she said. “It’s a concern as the federal government, particularly [the attorney general] Jeff Sessions, talk about ramping that up, that we’ll be seeing more and more of the kind of searches that Charnesia describes.”