10/09/2008

Court: Search violated NY woman's rights

By Larry Neumeister
Associated Press

NEW YORK — A federal appeals court said Wednesday that police violated the rights of a woman who claims her strip search was broadcast in a police station in glitzy Southampton.

The three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan reinstated a lawsuit by Stacey Hartline, who claimed her constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure was violated by village police after her traffic stop in 2003.

The court even suggested that she refile her lawsuit with an additional claim that Southampton violates gender discrimination laws by strip searching women in situations in which men are not strip searched.

The appeals court said the arresting officer did not have enough evidence to perform an arrest, much less allow Hartline to be strip searched, since no useable narcotics were found in her vehicle and he saw nothing suspicious in Hartline's actions.

"Ultimately, if the facts of this case amount to reasonable suspicion, then strip searches will become commonplace," the appeals court wrote.

Police stopped Hartline, then 21, because the truck she was driving was missing a rear license plate. After spotting a stem of a marijuana plant on the truck's floor, the officer took Hartline to the village police station.

She was strip searched by a female officer, and released on a misdemeanor marijuana charge that was later dismissed.

She says when she was released, she saw a television monitor showing the cell where she was strip searched. She claims the strip search was telecast to male police officers for their amusement. Her lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

The village's lawyer did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Hartline, now 27, said she is still haunted by the experience.

"It's very hard to sit back and challenge a municipality," she said. "It's frightening. I've lived in this town my whole life. I love Southampton. The relief I feel is tremendous. I'm so pleased this won't happen to anyone else."

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