Once again, officers unpunished despite disturbing video

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Last week, Washington Post blogger Radley Balko shared a disturbing video from October, 2014 of what starts as a seemingly routine traffic stop by a group of police officers in Aiken, South Carolina. The stop, which Balko notes started without legal justification, escalated into a vehicle search, the arrival on the scene of a K9 drug dog, and finally pat downs and searches of the African American couple.

The stop ends with road-side searches of both Lakeya Hicks and Elijah Pontoon, according to the complaint. The couple contends the officers conducted an anal cavity search of Pontoon. While the dashboard video does not capture what occurred, the officers’ conversation caught on audio leaves little doubt of what happened.

A spokesman for the Aiken police said that the city denies the couple’s allegations and is “vigorously defending” the lawsuit.

“Even when something like that is justified, it’s almost never justified to do that on the street,” said Jason Williamson, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, told us recently in an interview about searches generally.

While video has brought public scrutiny and attention to police misconduct, Balko’s report highlights the challenges of holding officers, even ones caught on tape, accountable for their actions.  The officer who conducted the search in Aiken, Chris Medlin, still works for the police department there, according to Balko’s report.

Just last month the City of Chicago settled a lawsuit alleging similar crimes by eight Chicago police officers who, after pulling over a vehicle on Chicago’s South Side in May, 2013, conducted invasive street-side searches caught on camera by neighbor.

The compliant details the alleged searches done on the plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit while the video shows one of the men’s pants being pulled down by officers in an alley between two houses.

The city agreed to pay out $205,000 to Caprice Halley, Tevin Ford and the estate of Robert Douglas, now deceased, this past March.

Of the eight officers named in the lawsuit, none were disciplined for their role in the searches of Halley, Ford and Douglas, according to data available by the Invisible Institute. The Independent Police Review Authority found the complaint against the officers not sustained, and no action was taken.