Houston based sheriff’s deputies sexually assault woman over marijuana
A Spring woman says she was sexually assaulted by Harris County Sheriff’s Office Deputies in a gas station parking lot earlier this summer. The woman says deputies sexually assaulted her because they claimed to smell marijuana.
It happened around 10:30 pm on June 21 near Ella Blvd and Barren Springs Drive. Charnesia Corley, 21, says she was pulled over for allegedly running a stop sign. Deputies told her they smelled marijuana and ordered her to get out of the car.
Corley told ABC 13 KTRK that a female officer ordered her to pull her pants down in the parking lot of a gas station and proceeded to conduct an intrusive body cavity search with assistance from another female officer. We have received further information regarding the identity of the HCSO Deputies involved:
- Deputy William Strong – Conducted the traffic stop and ordered the search
- Deputy Ronaldine Pierre – Female Deputy forced Corley to the ground on her stomach, forced her to remove her pants, sat on her back while her and another female officer each spread one of her legs while both conducted an intrusive body cavity search
- Deputy R. Rojas – Female Deputy who assisted Deputy Ronaldine Pierre with the cavity search
There are 3 types of body cavity searches. A visual search, a “squat and cough” search that is usually conducted in jails and prisons, and the most intrusive type of cavity search, which involves penetrating the anus and/or vagina. The search performed on Corley by HCSO was the most intrusive type of body cavity search there is. These searches can only be performed with a warrant and must take place in a sterile environment, usually a hospital. Corley told KTRK “I feel like they sexually assaulted me! I really do. I feel disgusted, downgraded, humiliated.”
Sexual assault is defined in Texas Penal Code Sec. 22.011 as “intentionally or knowingly…caus(ing) the he penetration of the anus or sexual organ of another person by any means, without that person’s consent.”
One of the deputies told her to spread her legs. When she refused, Deputy Ronaldine Pierre held one leg and sat on Corley’s back, while Deputy R. Rojas held the other leg. The two female deputies then both conducted the intrusive search in public view.
The Houston chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (Houston NORML) has filed requests under the Texas Public Information Act seeking information on whether these three predators are still employed with the HCSO and patrolling the streets of Harris County. They are also seeking any available dashcam footage that may exist or any footage that may have been captured by the gas station security cameras.
Corley was handcuffed and says that she did not consent to a search, actually telling the officers “No, you cannot do this.” They did not have a search warrant – only the claim that they smelled cannabis.
Corley has been charged with Class B misdemeanor possession of marihuana for 0.02 ounces. She also faces charges for resisting arrest, presumably for hesitating after being ordered to pull down her pants in a public place.
HCSO spokesman Thomas Gilleland told KTRK that the deputies “did everything as they should.” He claims Corley consented to the search saying that deputies wrote in their report that Corley told a deputy they could “strip search her if I needed to.” I don’t know what planet Gilleland is living on because that’s not what Texas Law says. Earlier this year, the Texas Legislature passed a bill, authored by Houston Rep. Harold Dutton that prohibits body cavity searches of any type without a warrant during a traffic stop. Not only did the officers violate Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 18.24 but they also violated the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution which protects us from unreasonable searches.
This reminds us of a case from 2012 where a female officer searched 2 women driving back from Oklahoma through Dallas County because they claimed to smell marijuana. Texas state trooper, Kelly Helleson, was indicted on two counts of official oppression and sexual assault for conducting the search. In the dashcam video, the officer can clearly be seen conducting a cavity search on two women using the same hand and did not change gloves in between searches. Both women were first searched in the front and then in the back with the same hand. Gloves were not changed in between cavities either. Trooper Helleson plead guilty to two counts of official oppression and was sentenced to 2 years of probation in 2014. The dashcam video can be found here (warning: video may be disturbing to some viewers).
At the end of the video, the woman can be heard saying “I was totally violated over there a few minutes ago. I had a finger in my ass and a finger in my…” The officer can be heard responding by saying “It’s because someone is a daily smoker in that car. You can attribute it to that.”
The two victims sued the Texas Department of Public Safety, which settled for $185,000. The DPS implemented a policy after the incident banning cavity searches without a warrant, according to NBC in Dallas-Fort Worth.
The policy did not prevent state troopers in Brazoria County from conducting body cavity searches in two separate incidents in 2013, one reported by KHOU and one by KPRC. In both incidents, state troopers stopped women and conducted roadside, warrantless body cavity searches for marijuana.
Regardless of any state law or agency policy, law enforcement officers must abide by the supreme law of the land, the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects us against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” interpreted most often as warrantless searches in a place where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. As Corley’s attorney stated to KTRK, It is undeniable that the search was unconstitutional.
Houston NORML is in the process of organizing a protest at the HCSO due to the numerous messages we’ve received and the public outrage that we’ve heard from our supporters. We will demand these three officers be fired immediately and investigated for the alleged sexual assault. We’ll have further information as it becomes available. If you would like to get involved please send us a message.
To think that merely alleging to smell the odor or aroma of the cannabis plant can cause our fourth amendment rights to be violated is unfathomable. To think that government agents in our community are willing to touch and/or penetrate our body cavities to look for marijuana is downright frightening. Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman has some serious questions to answer because this incident occurred on his watch. Deputies William Strong, Ronaldine Pierre, and R. Rojas have brought shame and humiliation not only to Charnesia Corley and the HCSO but to the people of Harris County. This type of despicable behavior by the officers involved should never be happening in our communities.
By: Jason Miller
Jason is the Executive Director of Houston NORML.