Women Suing State Troopers Over Roadside Cavity Searches

No narcotics, contraband found during searches, lawsuit says

By Frank Heinz and Ken Kalthoff
|  Wednesday, Dec 19, 2012  |  Updated 7:22 PM CDT
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Two Irving women are suing after they were subjected to a roadside cavity search by a Texas DPS Trooper, their lawyer released the video.

Ken Kalthoff, NBC 5 News

Two Irving women are suing after they were subjected to a roadside cavity search by a Texas DPS Trooper, their lawyer released the video.

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Two Irving women are suing two Texas State troopers and the director of the Department of Public Safety after they say they were violated, during what they call an unconstitutional search, when they were subjected to a roadside cavity search in full view of the public and without probable cause.

On July 13, while driving along State Highway 161, Angel Dobbs and her niece Ashley Dobbs were stopped for littering by Trooper David Ferrell. In the dashcam video released by the women and their attorney, Ferrell can be heard telling the women they would both be cited for littering for throwing cigarette butts out of the car.

Farrell then returned to his cruiser and, in the video, can be heard calling female Trooper Kelley Helleson to the scene to search both women whom he said were acting weird.

While waiting for Helleson to arrive, Farrell asked Angel Dobbs to step out of the vehicle and began questioning her about marijuana use. In the video, the trooper is heard telling Dobbs he smelled marijuana coming from the vehicle while asking her several times how much pot was in the car.

Farrell: How much marijuana is in that car? And don't lie to me.
Angel Dobbs: I don't smoke marijuana.
Farrell: OK, how much marijuana is in that car? That's my question.
Dobbs: I swear to God, I don't smoke marijuana.
Farrell: I'm not asking you if you smoke it.
Dobbs: I don't think there is any marijuana in that car.
Farrell: OK, when was the last time somebody smoked marijuana in that car?
Dobbs: I honestly don't know. It's my boyfriend's car. So, I just borrowed it.
Farrell: There's an odor of marijuana coming from the car and that's why I've got to talk to you further about it. Um, and the more upfront you are the better it's going to go for you. So, you're telling me there's no marijuana in that car?
Dobbs: To the best of my knowledge, no there is not.
Farrell: Is there anything hidden on your person?
Dobbs: On my person?
Farrell: On your person, in your shoes, in your underwear?
Dobbs: No. I feel like I'm being treated like a criminal right now. What's going on?
Farrell: I've got a female Trooper up the road, she's going to come down here and we're just going to check a little bit more.

After Helleson arrived, she can be seen in the dashcam video putting on blue latex gloves to conduct a search of both women. According to the lawsuit, when Angel Dobbs asked about the gloves, Helleson "told her not to worry about that."

In the lawsuit, Dobbs said the trooper conducted the cavity search on the roadside, illuminated by the police car's headlights, in full view of any passing motorists.

"This has been an eye-opening experience for me. I've never been pulled over, never searched like this. I was totally violated over there a few minutes ago... this is so embarrassing to me," Angel Dobbs said on the video.

"I've never been so humiliated or so violated or felt so molested in my entire life," Angel Dobbs told NBC 5.

Dobbs said she never gave consent for the trooper to "frisk, pat-down, search or otherwise touch her" and that she never gave consent for Farrell to search her vehicle -- which he can be seen doing in the dashcam video while the cavity search was under way.

Dobbs said she was powerless to stop it. "What are you going to say? What's going to happen to you if you challenge that authority?" she said.

With the cavity search concluded, Farrell then asked Dobbs about prescription medications found in the car.  Dobbs said they were for her thyroid and for migraines. According to the lawsuit, Dobbs also suffers from a medical condition that was irritated by the search.

Meanwhile, Helleson can then be seen performing the same cavity search on Dobbs' niece, Ashley.

"It's because somebody is a daily smoker in that car. OK, you can attribute it to that," Farrell can be heard saying on the recording.

The lawsuit further alleges that Helleson performed searches on both women, touching both their anus and vaginas, without changing the latex gloves between searches.

"I don't think anybody needs to have to feel, or go through what we went through," Ashley Dobbs said. "It crosses my mind every day. It's humiliating," she said.

After searching the entire car and finding no narcotics, Farrell then administered a DWI test that Dobbs passed, the lawsuit said. The women were then issued warnings for littering and released at the scene.

The lawsuit goes on to say that a bottle of prescribed hydrocodone was missing from Dobbs' car and purse after the search. The women returned to the scene of the traffic stop the next day to search for the medication, but it was nowhere to be found.

Their lawyers say the search was illegal and a complaint about it was filed in August but that DPS Texas Rangers who investigated the incident took no action.

"This is outside the constitutional grounds by a mile. It's not even close," attorney Scott Palmer said. "This has to stop. These two need to be stopped. There's no telling how many other people they've done this to and we hope that others come forward."

Attorney Charles Soechting Jr. said his father was a DPS trooper and he has great respect for the agency. "But in this instance they have completely failed the citizens of Texas," Soechting said.

Soechting said a records request to DPS produced no policy that allows for cavity  search of any suspect in public.

"What we're dealing with is a Class C misdemeanor. It does not justify any type of pat-down, let alone an invasive search of cavities of women,"” he said.

Calls for comment to the DPS Austin headquarters were not returned Tuesday.

UPDATE: On Wednesday, the DPS told NBC 5 Helleson is suspended with pay. There had been no other suspensions as of Wednesday night.

The women are requesting a trial by jury and are asking for unspecified, compensatory and exemplary damages and interest as well as recovery of attorney's fees and court costs.

The Dallas County District Attorney's office told NBC 5 it has received the case and will refer it to a grand jury in January.

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