A recent lawsuit prompting the suspension of a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper after characterizing her tactics in a “roadside body cavity search” performed on two Texas women alongside a Dallas area highway as “illegal and humiliating” has led to the suspension of a second trooper.
After the Dec. 17 filing, trooper Kelley Helleson was reportedly two days later suspended with pay. The suit accused that she “used her fingers to search their anuses and vaginas — using the same latex glove — while on the side of the road in full view of passing vehicles.” DPS announced last week that trooper David Farrell, the officer initiating the traffic stop, was also suspended with pay effective Dec. 21. In addition to Helleson and Farrell, the suit also names Steven McCraw, the director of the Department of Public Safety.
The search of Angel Dobbs, 38, and her niece, Ashley Dobbs, 24, occurred July 13, 2012, during a traffic stop near the Irving corridor of State Highway 161. The stop, captured by a DPS dash-mounted camera, started with Farrell saying he saw the women throw a cigarette butt out of the car window. Claiming to smell marijuana in the car, he called Helleson to conduct the search. No drugs were found. Angel Dobbs also passed a field sobriety test and the two women were released with a littering warning.
“This is outside the constitutional grounds by a mile. It’s not even close,” attorney Scott H. Palmer told NBC 5 / KXAS-TV. “This has to stop. These two need to be stopped. There’s no telling how many other people they’ve done this to and we hope that others come forward.”
In the interview, Charles Soechting Jr., another of the women’s attorneys, discussed a DPS records request which failed to produce any policy authorizing publically-conducted cavity searches of suspects.
Despite his father’s history as a DPS trooper and respect for the agency, Soechting said “in this instance they have completely failed the citizens of Texas.” Terming the incident a Class C misdemeanor, he said it justifies no “type of pat-down, let alone an invasive search of cavities of women.”
The women are requesting a jury trial in their civil action and media attention to this matter is unlikely to wane. NBC 5 / KXAS-TV reports the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office received the case and a grand jury referral is expected later this month.
What appears a disregard of civil liberties by law enforcement betrays the specific women involved and the general public’s trust. Additionally, resources expended by Department of Public Safety officials, the Texas Rangers, the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office and a federal court create questionable taxpayer expense at a time when all levels of government budgets are increasingly stretched.
Substantive action to restore public confidence in all these areas will hopefully be demanded as this case moves forward.