Officers accused of conducting illegal strip searches - CBS46 News

Police chief responds: Officers accused of conducting illegal strip searches

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ATLANTA (CBS ATLANTA) -

The Atlanta Police are conducting humiliating and illegal searches, according to the Citizen's Review Board, who documented cases of officers pulling down people's pants, touching their genitals and even conducting cavity searches in public. The purpose, the board says, is to intimidate and frighten.

Police Chief George Turner is responding to those allegations in an exclusive interview with CBS Atlanta's Wendy Saltzman.

"Is it against your policy to be doing strip searches and cavity searches out in public?" Saltzman asked.

"If that actually occurred, it is against our actual policy," Turner responded

Last week, the city paid out a $200,000 settlement in one case and another lawsuit is on the brink of being filed after another officer allegedly touched a teenager's genitals in an illegal search.

"There's a custom and practice among Atlanta police officers to illegally search people, including strip search them. To pull down their pants, to touch their private areas, and in some cases to do rectal cavity searches out in the field," said Attorney Dan Grossman.

The Citizen's Review Board met to recommend the termination and suspension of several officers accused of using these disturbing intimidation tactics.

"This type of behavior shouldn't be tolerated," board member William Harrison said.

The board documented a pattern including strip searches, touching genitals, and conducting cavity exams, in public which they say is against the city's policy.

"It is completely illegal and against Atlanta policy for a police officer to stick his finger inside someone out in the field," Grossman agreed. "And yet, they admit doing it in their own police reports. It is typical of what they do, trying to use these tactics to intimidate, scare and terrify people."

But Chief Turner disagreed there is a pattern or that he has failed to take appropriate action.

"I am aware of the cases that have been brought to my attention, and we have dealt with those in my opinion very thoroughly and completely," the chief said.

Grossman disagreed. He represents three young men who he says were illegally searched by the police. One of the teens is 17-year-old Olajuwan Wilson.

"Without any reason to suspect him of anything, police officers came up, and a police officer stuck his hands down 17-year-old Wilson's pants," Grossman said.

In another case police pulled over two of Grossman's clients for running a stop sign he says didn't even exist.

"They wound up pulling down Mr. Venegas' pants and made him spread his butt cheeks on the side of the road," Grossman explained.

The police found no illegal contraband in either of those searches. Both cases were brought before the review board to recommend disciplinary action against the officers involved.

"I think we should consider termination," board member Paul Bartels said.

The officers were part of the now disbanded Red Dog unit. But Grossman says the problem reaches all the way to the department's top.

"People should be surprised by this. You should be surprised that Atlanta police officers are doing rectal exams out in the field. It's surprising. It's surprising that Chief George Turner doesn't discipline these guys. Anyone should be surprised by that. I don't know why we as a city have allowed Chief Turner to get away with this," Grossman said.

"Have you terminated or disciplined any of those officers?" Saltzman asked the Chief.

"I have not, that case has not concluded," Turner said.

"Isn't this a liability to the city?" Saltzman asked.

"You would have to talk to the law department about why they decide to settle cases," he said.

The chief is facing criticism that he is failing to take action against these officers.

"We're talking about a handful of thugs and a police chief who lets them get away with it," Grossman said.

"One of the things that is absolutely crystal clear is that I take no joy in disciplining our officers," the chief told Saltzman.

The city's policy says cavity searches have to be conducted in a jail by medical personnel. But in several police reports obtained by CBS Atlanta News officers admit to conducting strip searches in public.

"We have an obligation and a duty to investigate those. We are doing that," Turner said.

The board is recommending the termination of two officers, and the suspension of one more in the Venegas case. They will reconvene next month to discuss discipline of the officers in the Wilson search. Those recommendations will be sent to the chief for his review.

Turner says he is providing training for all of his officers concerning strip searches and citizen's constitutional rights. But he denies this is a pattern of practice in his department in spite of the lawsuits and police reports uncovered by CBS Atlanta News.

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