Two Refugio women sue sheriff, deputies over illegal strip search
BY GHENI PLATENBURG
June 14, 2011 at 1:14 a.m.
Two Refugio women have filed a lawsuit against Refugio County Sheriff Robert Bolcik and two of his deputies over claims that the officers illegally strip searched them on the side of the highway in plain view of oncoming traffic.
Plaintiffs Brittah Williams and Jessica Mascorro claimed Bolcik, who was elected sheriff in November 2008, along with deputies Jeff Raymond and Shelley Haertig, both of whom are named as defendants in the lawsuit along with Bolcik, violated the plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment rights, which guard against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Refugio County also is named as a defendant.
The lawsuit was filed June 8 in federal court.
Bolcik, who received a copy of the lawsuit Monday via email, did not respond to messages left by The Advocate for comment.
Both Refugio County Judge Rene Mascorro and County Auditor Diana Moss said they were unaware of any lawsuit pending against the county, and therefore could not comment.
The lawsuit contends that in the early evening hours of Dec. 31, 2009, the women were traveling home after a shopping trip.
As the women neared the Bayside Bridge, Jessica Mascorro noticed flashing emergency lights from a law enforcement cruiser approaching from behind and signaling her to pull over, according to the lawsuit.
Mascorro, who was driving, pulled over to the side of the road, while Raymond and Bolcik also parked their vehicles.
Bolcik was the first to approach the women's car.
After Mascorro inquired why she had been pulled over, Bolcik said that he had information that her boyfriend at the time was smuggling drugs into the county, and he needed to search her vehicle, according to the lawsuit.
Mascorro gave Bolcik consent to search her vehicle, during which time no drugs were found, according to the lawsuit.
Haertig showed up on the scene soon afterward.
Upon her arrival, Haertig was instructed by the other officers to strip search the plaintiffs.
Following orders, Haertig searched the women.
Williams' child, who was in the back seat of the car, was also searched during the incident, according to the lawsuit.
The entire ordeal lasted more than two hours.
After the incident, a number of witnesses told the women they had observed them being strip searched alongside the highway, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit contends the officers violated the women's Fourth Amendment rights by falsely detaining the women, who were not suspects in any investigation, without probable cause or sufficient justification, and by seizing the plaintiffs in an unnecessarily cruel, humiliating and dangerous manner.
"No reasonably competent officer would have concluded that the facts warranted plaintiffs' detention, much less their strip search on the side of a busy highway," said the lawsuit.
Refugio County is named as a defendant in the lawsuit because, as an administrative district, it failed, among several claims, to provide adequate training of deputies and employees. The county is also accused of failing to adopt a policy precluding deputies and employees from illegal search and seizure.
"It is an atrocity for law enforcement to believe they have this kind of power," said Chris Gale, the plaintiffs' San Antonio-based attorney. "This is America. People have certain protections. You don't have the power to stop people just on a whim or because you desire to do so," said Gale, who claimed the women were stopped only because of guilt by association. The women claimed the officer's actions caused them to suffer extreme emotional distress, prompting them to seek treatment.
The women are seeking damages for pain and suffering, emotional and mental distress, and personal humiliation, past medical expenses and lost income.
As of Tuesday night, the women, whose phone numbers were not available, had not responded to messages left by The Advocate seeking comment.