A State Trooper Conducted a Painful Roadside Cavity Search Over a Phantom Weed Smell, Lawsuit Claims
On July 13, Angel Dobbs was driving her boyfriend's car north down the George Bush Turnpike when they were pulled over by state troopers. The troopers said they had spotted Dobbs throw a cigarette butt out the window.
According to a lawsuit filed by the Dobbs yesterday in federal court, the traffic stop soon took a different turn. One of the troopers, David Farrell, took Angel Dobbs to a roadside field, where he peppered her with questions that quickly transitioned from general queries about where the pair was headed and to more pointed questions about whether they were transporting marijuana. He did the same with Ashley Dobbs. Both denied having any weed.
At that point, a second trooper, Kelley Helleson, arrived on scene. Farrell had called her because the Dobbs were "acting weird" and needed to be searched, according to the suit. So while Farrell began a search of the car, claiming by way of probable cause that he smelled marijuana, Helleson positioned Angel Dobbs in front of the spotlights from Farrell's cruiser.
At that time she explained that she would be searching Angel Dobb's person and put on blue latex gloves without explaining the need for gloves. When Angel Dobbs questioned what the term "person" meant in response to the request for consent to search her person, and why Helleson had latex gloves on, Helleson told her not to worry about that.
You can imagine where this is going, so we'll spare you the details, other than to say that, according to the lawsuit, Hellson's gloved hands went inside Dobbs' sweatpants and probed both front and back. And that Dobbs suffers from a skin condition called hidradenitis suppurativa that made the whole thing particularly painful. Without changing her gloves, Hellson performed an identical search on Ashley Dobbs, the suit claims.
When Angel Dobbs told Farrell she felt violated by the search, which had happened on a public roadway in full view of passersby, he told her it was justified by the odor of marijuana, which made it clear that "someone is a daily smoker in that car," according to the suit.
The pair alleges that Farrell and Hellson had no probable cause to justify the search and that their behavior violated established law governing cavity searches. This is a reflection not only of Helleson, whom they say has "performed numerous unconsented and illegal cavity searches of females and is an ongoing and pervasive problem," but of the Texas Department of Public Safety in general. They blame the agency's director, Steven McCraw, for failing to provide adequate training to troopers. The're are asking for unspecified damages.
Update at 3:13 p.m.: The Dobbs' attorney released a videotape of the cavity search today. This one was posted to YouTube by WFAA's David Schecter. The first search begins at 2:52.
Update at 4:29 p.m.: DPS just passed along a statement:
We do not discuss pending litigation. However, following the traffic stop that occurred in July of this year and based on a citizen's complaint, the Texas Rangers conducted an inquiry surrounding the events, and has since turned the results over to the Dallas County District Attorney's Office for review.