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Routine Humiliation

This week, Louisiana narcotics officers offer an apology to a middle-aged couple after they conducted a mistaken drug raid on their home; a Surrey, BC, woman gets an absolute discharge after a judge rules she was inappropriately strip-searched by police after being caught speeding; and fourteen South Carolina police storm a high school hallway looking for marijuana and find nothing.
 
 
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November 1 -- Louisiana's The Town Talk reports: In the wee hours of the morning on Oct. 24, Ethel and Joseph Welch were awakened by the sound of banging on their door.

"I heard a boom, boom, boom, boom at my door," Ethel Welch said.

The couple peeked out of their Wise Street home to see their yard full of armed police officers.

"We didn't know what to do or what they wanted," Ethel Welch said. "We were scared and confused."

The Welches say state, local and federal officers participating in "Alexandria Narcotics Winter Sweep" served an arrest warrant at their house, although the suspect being sought didn't live there. The Police Department issued a public apology Thursday to the Welch family for the mistake.

But the Welches said Friday that the whole incident could have been avoided if the Police Department had listened to them two and a half months ago.

The couple said they went to the department and told an officer that nobody lived at the house except the two of them and offered for police to come see for themselves. In addition, they talked to another officer on the phone about the situation, they said.

"They (police) had plenty of time to check out our story and make sure where the guy lived before coming" during the drug sweep, Joseph Welch said.

Assistant Police Chief Jimmy Hay confirmed the couple came to the department and that the department made a mistake.

The couple, who have lived in their home for 35 years, told officers no one lived with them. A suspect had provided police with their address. They asked for their address to be removed from the suspect's record.

They had hoped everything would be taken care of, but then came the morning of Oct. 24.

The Welches were awakened by pounding at their door about 4:30 a.m. To their surprise, officers were in their yard and almost surrounding the house. A K-9 dog also was there.

They were not fully dressed when they answered the door, they said, and one of the officers pushed the door completely open, placing them in the spotlight.

They were told the officers had a warrant and asked if the suspect lived there.

Ethel Welch said she and her husband were confused and did not know what the officers were talking about. She said they insisted they were the only two people living there, and the officers left. Ethel Welch said she and her husband were rudely told to go back to bed as the officers left.

"It was humiliating," Ethel Welch said.

November 7 -- The (Vancouver, BC) Province reports: The way in which a strip search was done on a Surrey woman in the Vancouver jail amounted to a "serious breach" of her civil rights, a judge has ruled.

Cara Simone Douglas, 33, was driving along Kingsway one afternoon in June 2002, coming from the hairdresser, when she was pulled over for speeding. She protested against police demanding to search her vehicle and, after a tussle with two cops, was put in handcuffs and taken to jail.

After being strip-searched, Douglas was held overnight in jail. She was released the next day after a bail hearing on a charge that she had assaulted a police officer.

Douglas's lawyer, Richard Brooks, argued that the arrest and subsequent strip search, part of the jail's policy of routine strip searches, violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He applied for a stay of proceedings. In a 38-page ruling released yesterday, Vancouver Provincial Court Judge Cathy Bruce found shortcomings in the jail's strip-search policy but rejected the stay application.

Bruce found Douglas guilty of assault but granted her an absolute discharge, noting she had "suffered enough" at the hands of authorities and that she had no prior criminal record.

"On the one hand, a strip search is a humiliating, embarrassing and degrading experience and the humiliation experienced by the prisoner is compounded when the search is conducted in an unreasonable manner, as occurred in this case," said the judge.

The judge noted that the search was not carried out in private because a window in the door facing into the hall was open and anyone passing by could have seen into the strip-search cell.

Secondly, Douglas was ordered to disrobe entirely when a "proper search" could have been conducted by having her remove her clothes in stages, said the judge. Finally, when she initially refused to strip down, a corrections officer took out her handcuffs, an "implicit threat of force," Bruce said.

Douglas called the entire episode a "nightmare" - -- a small incident that got blown way out of hand. "There was no reason to strip search me," she said. "I had nothing to hide. They were just humiliating me." An absolute discharge means Douglas will face no consequences and have no criminal record.

Solicitor-General Rich Coleman said that despite the ruling, he would go ahead with plans to introduce legislation next spring to entrench strip searches as a corrections policy.

November 8 -- The South Carolina Times and Democrat reports: An effort to stem a growing drug problem at a Lowcountry high school netted no illegal narcotics but did get some complaints.

Fourteen officers cordoned off the main hallway of Stratford High School at 6:40 a.m. Wednesday to search for marijuana. No drugs were found.

"Several officers did unholster their weapons in a tactical law enforcement approach," Lt. Dave Aarons of the Goose Creek Police Department said. "There was no force whatsoever. Everyone was very compliant."

During Wednesday's raid, officers and school employees sealed off the main hallway. There were 107 students who happened to be in the hallway at the time. Police told the students to sit on the floor and put their hands out, McCrackin said. Officers searched only book bags that the police dog responded to, not students, he said.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson drugwarbriefs@yahoo.com.