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An open letter regarding cavity searches for marijuana in Texas

Zoe Russell of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition pens an open letter to Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman regarding the recent full body cavity search of a woman over the scent of marijuana.

Dear Sheriff Hickman,

There is much to inquire about regarding an incident that occurred in the late evening of July 21 in Houston.

A young woman was pulled over for a traffic violation, and, without consent, was subjected to a warrantless, invasive body cavity search in the public parking lot of a gas station.

What could be the justification for a body cavity search of a 21-year-old woman who was pulled over for a simple traffic stop? The Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy said it was the smell of marijuana.

The powerful, free pass of smelling marijuana.

Deputy William Strong placed Ms. Charnesia Corley into his patrol car in handcuffs while he searched her car for an hour. Turning up no marijuana, you would think he would allow Ms. Corley to be on her way.

Rather, Strong believed the smell of marijuana traveled with Ms. Corley, and called for a female deputy. The deputy told Ms. Corley to remove her pants. Remember, this scene is taking place in a Texaco parking lot at 10:30pm. Imagine if this is a young woman in your family.

Ms. Corley stated that she did not have on underwear, to which the female deputy was unconcerned. She required Ms. Corley to bend over and submit to a vaginal probe. When Ms. Corley protested, she was allegedly knocked to the ground. A second female deputy assisted in completing the vaginal probe by holding Ms. Corley’s legs apart.

The spokesperson for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, Thomas Gilleland, told KTRK, “the deputies did everything as they should.” He added, “one deputy even wrote in the report that Corley said they could “strip search her if I needed to.””

Are we to believe this?

Ms. Corley is charged with possession of 0.02 ounces of marijuana and resisting arrest, yet she consented to the highly intrusive body cavity search? How was she resisting the search and consenting to the search simultaneously?

This warrantless search is absolutely illegal. It was illegal – a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment – before the past legislative session, but to make things clearer, the 84th Texas Legislature passed House Bill 324 unanimously in both chambers. Sponsored by Houston Representative Harold Dutton and Fort Worth area Senator Konni Burton, HB 324 was signed into law by Governor Abbott on June 19th. The caption text? “Relating to a requirement that a peace officer obtain a search warrant before conducting a body cavity search during a traffic stop.” I cannot imagine this bill’s unanimous vote is anything but a recognition that the law ought to always have been interpreted in this manner in accordance with the U.S. Constitution.

There are more issues with this incident.

What happened to the first chance intervention program? Did Ms. Corley have prior offenses? Did she qualify for the program?

Why was the deputy willing to go forward with a warrantless body cavity search for the smell of marijuana when the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, through first chance intervention, has a policy of not arresting for small amounts of marijuana?

Are you participating in first chance intervention? Are your deputies trained on it? Why would a body cavity search ever be involved for the smell of marijuana if the Harris County Sheriff’s Deputies are meant to be participating in first chance intervention?

Somewhere along the way, undisclosed thus far, an alleged 0.02 ounces of marijuana was found in Ms. Corley’s possession.

So here we have on our hands a giant problem for 0.02 ounces of marijuana.

0.02 ounces of marijuana will likely cost the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, and therefore taxpayers, a settlement to Ms. Corley’s civil rights lawsuit. And I believe she deserves it.

0.02 ounces of marijuana has cost this woman her dignity and scarred her with a lasting trauma that would haunt anyone for an extensive amount of time.

0.02 ounces of marijuana cost this community faith in our police, policies, and leadership.

0.02 ounces ought to cost the deputies involved their jobs.

Do you, Sheriff Hickman, believe all of this trouble was worth 0.02 ounces of marijuana? Are we a better community for violating and then giving a criminal record to someone for 0.02 ounces of marijuana? We want to hear from you, Sheriff.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Zoe Russell
Assistant Director
Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP)

John Baucum
Political Director
Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP)

http://www.rampgop.org/

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Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter is a 30 year old journalist and information technology specialist living in Waco, Texas. He has been working with the cannabis movement since 2009. He founded Texas Cannabis Report in 2013 to bring Texans accurate cannabis related news.

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