Graphic by hotflashcarol, based on actual signs, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of driving through Texas.
On the evening of July 13, 2012, 38-year-old Angel Dobbs and her niece, Ashley Dobbs, 24, were traveling in Angel’s boyfriend’s car on Highway 161 in Irving, TX, a suburb of Dallas. They were on their way to a casino in Oklahoma. They were pulled over by Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Trooper David Farrell, who said he saw each of them throw lighted cigarette butts out of the car windows. This is important; these women were pulled over for nothing more serious than—allegedly—littering. Littering in Texas is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 on first offense; a second offense may result in a fine of up to $2,000 and 180 days in jail. Or, if you’re unfortunate enough to be stopped by Trooper Farrell and his accomplice, Trooper Kelley Helleson, you might be subjected to public sexual assault by a couple of subhumans with an array of deadly weapons but apparently only one set of latex gloves. And then you might end up on YouTube.
This video made me sick. Literally—shaky, knot-in-your-stomach, cortisol-overdose sick. The worst part was watching these two innocent women, one of them only 24 years old, having to passively succumb to what amounts to vaginal and anal rape because the perpetrators had not just guns but badges. In the federal lawsuit that Angel and Ashley Dobbs have recently filed, Angel says she was was “overwhelmed with emotion and a feeling of helplessness and reacted stating that Helleson had just violated her in a most horrific manner.” Those of us who have been sexually abused or assaulted, especially by authority figures, know that such violations can have a lifelong impact that will not be mitigated by settlement dollars or prison sentences. The damage has already been done; these women have already been found guilty of littering and having a boyfriend who might have smoked pot in his car, and they have been punished accordingly. I bet they never do that again. (How fucking pernicious is the “I smelled pot” excuse; it apparently gives the police state carte blanche to escalate the situation to whatever level matches their testosterone that day.)
I don’t need to go through the painfully obvious criminal and civil rights violations that occurred in just this five-minute video (the original dashcam video is apparently an hour long). There was no probable cause to believe the driver was impaired, no probable cause for the searches, no consent to the search of the car, no consent to the body cavity searches on the roadside, illuminated by the police spotlights and in full view of the passing public. Kelley did not even change her gloves; she used the same gloves to molest both women. A link to a copy of the complaint can be found here (scroll down; it’s just above the video). The suit also names DPS Director Steve McCraw as a defendant. It says that McCraw has failed to control and discipline his officers, who have a history of conducting invasive and unlawful searches, or to take responsibility for DPS policy in regard to such conduct. It turns out DPS has no written policy or training on the lawful use of body cavity searches.
The takeway here is something I already knew: Officer Friendly is not your friend. Sociopaths like David Farrell (who has not been disciplined in any way) and Kelley Helleson (who has recently been suspended on paid leave) do not have your best interests, or even the best interests of the public, in mind when they turn on those flashing red lights. Be afraid. You might even choose to be very afraid. Know your rights. OK, let me back up: remember that you still have rights. Not as many as you used to, but you still have some. Use them judiciously. Don’t be one of the 30 percent of Americans who have been conditioned by TSA and other fearmongers to be willing to undergo a body cavity search in order to fly.
After I watched that video, I decided that if I were one of those two women, I would have ended up in jail for assault, or perhaps dead of an officer-involved shooting, because I would have kicked that crazy bitch between her legs the first time she put her hands between my legs. My tolerance for police brutality has decreased in inverse proportion to my willingness to get my ass kicked. I am not suggesting that anyone should physically resist in such circumstances and I am in no way judging how the Dobbs women reacted. If that was their first encounter with police, they probably assumed good intentions and were shocked by what transpired. And the troopers probably would have responded with force to any hint of resistance. Nevertheless, it is your right to resist illegal search and seizure by refusing to consent and by insisting that an attorney be present. Edited to add: I think Angel and Ashley did the right thing in that particular situation; they were able to leave without enduring even further abuse and they went to an attorney later, when they were safe.
At the very first gathering of Occupy Oakland, we were all instructed to write the phone number of the National Lawyers Guild on our arms and memorize it (I can say it in my sleep: 415-285-1011). We were also given little “Know Your Rights” cards from Berkeley Copwatch to put in our pockets. We were reminded that it is legal to say just about anything to a cop as long as it cannot be construed as a threat—and that doing so puts you very much at risk of a fractured skull or a lacerated spleen and/or a night or three in jail. The cops know your rights, better than you do; but they often choose to ignore them or pretend they don’t exist. Let’s start holding them accountable; let’s start taking back our rights.